The United States said Saturday it is stepping up its fight against Covid-19 (coronavirus) and extending a European travel ban to include the United Kingdom and Ireland, while acknowledging that some domestic travel curbs are also being considered.
President Donald Trump has decided to "suspend all travel from the United Kingdom and Ireland" effective midnight Monday EST (0400 GMT Tuesday), Vice President Mike Pence told a White House news conference.
"Americans in the UK or Ireland can come home. Legal residents can come home," Pence said, adding that such people would be "funnelled through specific airports and processed."
Meanwhile, Trump advised against non-essential travel and said officials were considering imposing travel restrictions within the United States.
"If you don't have to travel, I wouldn't do it," Trump told the news conference.
"We want this thing to end. We don't want a lot of people getting infected."
Trump spoke to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson Saturday about the new restrictions, according to the White House press office.
European officials have reacted angrily to Trump's sweeping travel ban, which also caused widespread consternation among travellers.
The original 30-day US ban on travel from the 26 countries in Europe's Schengen border-free zone took effect on Saturday, but notably excluded Britain and Ireland.
A senior administration official said he believed that the new limits on travel from the UK and Ireland would be for the same period of time as the restrictions already imposed on continental Europe.
The administration had hoped to stop anyone from the continent using the UK and Ireland as transit points en route to the United States, the official told reporters in a background briefing, "but that is proving operationally very difficult for us."
Britain's death toll from the novel coronavirus nearly doubled on Saturday, to 21.
Official figures showed the country has 1,140 confirmed cases – an increase of 342 from the day before. But a senior health official has estimated that the number of infected people is more likely to be between 5,000 and 10,000.
The Republic of Ireland – which has taken strict steps to stem the spread of the coronavirus – so far has 70 confirmed cases and one death.
Flights that take off from the UK and Ireland before 11:59 pm on Monday (0359 GMT Tuesday) will be allowed entry into the United States.
In addition to US citizens and permanent residents, their spouses and the non-American parents and siblings of under-21 children who are citizens will be allowed to enter despite the ban.