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U.S. Expands Europe Travel Ban To U.K. And Ireland


President Trump is expanding the European coronavirus travel ban to include the U.K. and Ireland. That will start Monday at midnight. And he said today he's considering domestic travel restrictions. He's been widely criticized for an initial slow and muddled response to the outbreak. The president has tried to reassure Americans this past week that the government is doing everything in its power to control the spread of the virus. He declared a national emergency, which will help get federal funds and medical care to states and cities that need it.

Joining us now is NPR science correspondent Richard Harris. Good morning.


MONTAGNE: Now, the European travel ban went into effect last night - that travelers returning from Europe now going through 13 specific airports in the U.S. And today Vice President Pence said they will expand that ban to the U.K. and Ireland. What impact might that have?

HARRIS: Well, to the extent that they're worried about new cases coming into the U.S., that, well, could help slow it down because most of the cases now - the real hotspot in the world is Europe. It was peculiar that the U.K. and Ireland were not put in the initial European ban because they had hundreds of cases, but they seemed to have recognized that some adjustment was necessary. And of course, U.S. people - citizens and people with permanent residence can still come home. If they're sick, they get referred to health care. And if they're well, they're asked to self-quarantine. So that seems to be fairly standard.

But what's also interesting is what's happening with domestic travel. The U.S. military announced that they asked its folks not to travel domestically, which raises the question of whether - you know, who should be traveling domestically. And President today at the news conference said, if you don't need to travel, he says, don't travel. And they're also talking about much more specific travel bans around certain areas. He didn't say where, but this is a public health measure that is very controversial. And obviously, we'll want to learn more about that when they make announcements.

MONTAGNE: And one of the issues Trump and the vice president stressed was free testing and more widespread testing to come. The administration also has been criticized for not doing that sooner. But what do we expect?

HARRIS: Well, it's a little hard to know what to expect. Big promises, but we've heard big promises before. There are now two companies, Roche and Thermo Fisher, who have tests scaled up - FDA approved to do very widescale, very fast testing. And two of the big lab companies, LabCorp and Quest, will be able to process these tests. So the infrastructure's there, but getting that whole thing orchestrated and up to speed is likely to take some time. I don't know how long.

MONTAGNE: And President Trump said he was tested. He's been pressured by reporters about that for a long time.


MONTAGNE: But the administration is now apparently taking the temperature of people who will be in close contact with him.

HARRIS: Right. This is a strategy that was used very widely in China. It's a pretty rough gauge because if you're - a temperature test of - on somebody's forehead may not actually reveal whether they're sick or not. And if you've been exercising heavily, you might be hot, and it may have nothing to do with being sick. So it is not a - it's not a very reliable method. But again, it's a way of screening out and trying to reduce the risk of transmission. These press conferences do have dozens of people in attendance and very important people. So things are - that does make a certain amount of sense.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Richard Harris. Thanks very much for joining us.

HARRIS: Anytime. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.
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