Donald Trump has announced that the US will temporarily suspend most travel from the European Union amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The restrictions, which begin on Friday and last 30 days, do not apply to US citizens or travellers from the UK.
The restrictions apply to most foreign nationals who have been in the 26 countries of the Schengen area 14 days before their planned arrival in the US.
Trump said: “We have seen dramatically fewer cases of the virus in the United States than are now present in Europe. The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots. As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travellers from Europe.”
He added: “We are at a critical time in the fight against the virus. We made a life-saving move with early action on China. Now we must take the same action with Europe.
“We will not delay. I will never hesitate to take any necessary steps to protect the lives, health and safety of the American people. I will always put the well-being of America first.”
The countries affected are Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Amid widespread criticism of the plan, Department of Homeland Security acting secretary Chad Wolf said it was a “tough but necessary decision”.
Wolf added: “The actions president Trump is taking to deny entry to foreign nationals who have been in affected areas will keep Americans safe and save American lives.”
“We have a public health crisis in this country and the best way to help keep the American people safe and ensure their economic security is for the president to focus on fighting the spread of the coronavirus itself,” House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.
Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, described the ban as “ill-considered and ignorant” given coronavirus is “already widely present in the US”.