By David Shepardson, Alexandra Alper and Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration is likely to discourage Americans from taking trips to Europe with a new advisory as soon as Wednesday that would warn against non-essential travel to the region over coronavirus concerns, sources said.
The White House is set to discuss the advisories as well as potential new travel restrictions on travelers from Europe entering the United States at a meeting on Wednesday, sources familiar with the discussions said. Reuters was first to report on the impending advisories.
The U.S. State Department is likely to raise the travel advisory for potentially all of Europe to “Level 3: Reconsider Travel,” airline and U.S. officials said. Italy, which has become an epicenter of the virus in Europe, is already a Level 3 country.
One option under discussion is a stringent ban similar to the one the United States imposed on travelers from China, four of the sources said. Under those travel restrictions, nearly all foreigners who had visited China in the previous two weeks were banned from entry, while U.S. citizens were quarantined on returned home.
It was not immediately clear whether the administration would reach a decision or make an announcement on Wednesday. Additional restrictions have been discussed routinely for weeks but have fresh urgency as the number of cases and deaths outside of China have soared in the United States and abroad.
Robert Redfield, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told a congressional hearing that Europe was a growing source of U.S. coronavirus cases.
“Our real threat right now is Europe. That’s where the cases are coming in,” Redfield said. “If you want to just be blunt, Europe is the new China.”
Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy security of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told another congressional hearing that limiting the spread of the coronavirus from Europe to the United States “presents a unique problem” because of the freedom of movement across borders on the Continent.
Two weeks ago, the State Department raised the travel advisory level for Italy and South Korea, calling on U.S. citizens to reconsider travel there and avoid trips to the regions hardest hit by the respiratory illness. It has also coordinated efforts to screen would-be travelers to the United States from those countries before boarding.
The administration has credited the ban on travel from China – imposed in late January – with slowing the spread of the virus, prompting questions about why it has not yet extended the measure to cover other hard-hit countries.
(Reporting by David Shepardson, Alexandra Alper, and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Chris Sanders, Ross Colvin and Rosalba O’Brien)