March 11, 2020 / 6:06 PM / 22 days ago

EXCLUSIVE-White House to discuss new travel restrictions on Europe - sources

(Adds details on measures)

By David Shepardson, Alexandra Alper and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON, March 11 (Reuters) - The Trump administration is set to discuss new travel restrictions on European countries at a meeting on Wednesday in response to the coronavirus pandemic, sources familiar with the discussions said.

The plan could mirror a ban on travel to the United States placed on foreigners who visited China in the prior two weeks, which was later extended to Iran, three of the sources said. Advisories recommending Americans cancel travel to certain European countries is also under consideration, said the people, who requested anonymity because the talks were sensitive.

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 the death toll outside of China have soared in the United States and abroad.

The U.S. State Department is also considering raising the travel advisory for potentially all of Europe to “Level 3: Reconsider Travel,” airline and U.S. officials confirmed.

Robert Redfield, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told a congressional hearing that Europe was a rising source of U.S. coronavirus cases.

“Where 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.”

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.

But 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.

Vice President Mike Pence was to meet later at the White House with members of the coronavirus task force, which has been deliberating on a wide variety of related issues.

Pence said in a news briefing on Tuesday that the coronavirus task force had a thorough discussion earlier in the day about the prospect of recommending further travel advisories to President Donald Trump. (Reporting by David Shepardson, Alexandra Alper, and Steve Holland; Editing by Chris Sanders, Ross Colvin and Jonathan Oatis)

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