(CN) — No longer downplaying the coronavirus, President Donald Trump acknowledged the disease’s severity in a Wednesday night about-face where he announced a 30-day ban on travel to Europe.
Effective Friday at midnight, the travel restriction will not apply to U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Though Trump said the ban would also apply to cargo, an official with the Trump administration later clarified that trade would not be shut down.
“The restriction stops people not goods,” Trump tweeted later.
In his speech, the president said the travel ban was necessary because the European Union had in his estimate mishandled the virus in the early stages of its appearance there.
The announcement came as the National Basketball Association suspended its season Wednesday night after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for the COVID-19 virus strain.
“The NBA is suspending game play following the conclusion of tonight’s schedule of games until further notice,” the association said in a statement. “The NBA will use this hiatus to determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Trump has come under increasing criticism for his handling of the crisis in its early stages, as his administration has fumbled rolling out diagnostic tests and still does not meet the demand for such tests.
The president mentioned testing only in passing, saying the administration was ramping up capacity. He did, however, urge the elderly to avoid large social gatherings and exhorted the American people to use proper hygiene, including frequent hand-washing.
Trump had previously downplayed the threat of the virus, saying as recently as Tuesday that the virus “would just go away.”
Critics have condemned Trump’s approach, saying he has downplayed the threat posed by the disease to stoke consumer confidence, keeping stocks afloat and consumer confidence strong as many perceive the strength of the economy as vital to his re-election.
But his approach to the unfolding situation has left the stock market in a more volatile place.
The bull market that began in 2009 came to an end on Wednesday, as the Dow Jones plummeted by more than 1,000 points firmly into bear market territory. A bear market is when stocks have fallen 20% from a recent peak.
Skittish investors remain uncertain about the extent of the coronavirus’ reach in the United States and how the severe disruptions to everyday life will affect the greater economy.
Trump promised relief packages for small businesses and states affected by the virus, saying the strong economy has given the country flexibility to meet the financial challenges presented by the pandemic.
“This is a temporary moment that we will overcome as a nation,” he said.
The cases in the United States have surpassed 1,200, and several states across the country moved to restrict movement and ban mass gatherings while promoting social distancing.
More than 30 people have died from the virus in the United States.
Across the globe, 126,000 people have been stricken ill and more than 4,600 people have died.
The World Health Organization said Wednesday it would refer to the coronavirus as a pandemic going forward, while Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries need to do more to contain the virulent outbreak.
“And we have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action,” Ghebreyesus said. “We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear.”
Amid the virus outbreak, the National College Athletic Association announced it would hold its annual college basketball tournament without fans.
The Bay Area, the greater Seattle area and the area around New York City are emerging as the main clusters of the outbreak, but the disease is widespread in at least 36 states.
While Italy continues to wrestle with the ravages of the outbreak, there is a sliver of optimism emerging from South Korea and China, where new cases have slowed. While it is early, it appears social distancing, avoiding public gatherings, and frequent hand-washing and other measures can limit the spread of the disease.
“Smart action today will prevent the spread of the virus tomorrow,” Trump said.
He called for unity, an end to partisanship and promised to marshal the full resources of the federal government to tackle the largest public health crisis the United States has faced in several generations.