US increases travel restrictions as Trump confirms first coronavirus death

The US is banning travel to Iran in response to the outbreak of the Covid-19 coronavirus and elevating travel warnings to regions of Italy and South Korea.

Vice president Mike Pence announced the new restrictions and warnings as President Donald Trump said 22 people in the US have been infected with the coronavirus, including one who has died and four who are deemed "very ill", and that additional cases are "likely".

Mr Trump added that he was considering additional restrictions, including closing the US border with Mexico in response to the virus's spread. But he added: "This is not a border that seems to be much of a problem right now."

"We're thinking about all borders," he continued.

Travel to Iran is already quite limited, though some families are allowed to travel there on a visa. It is one of the seven initial countries on Mr Trump's travel ban list, which means travel from Iran also is already severely restricted.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar said: "We want to lower the amount of travel to and from the most impacted areas. This is a basic containment strategy."

Mr Trump provided an update on the virus from the White House press briefing room for the second time this week after the first reported US death of someone he described as having a high medical risk before contracting the virus.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said there was "no evidence of link to travel" in the case of the person who died.

The governor of Washington state declared a state of emergency following the death.

Governor Jay Inslee directed state agencies to use "all resources necessary" to prepare for and respond to the outbreak. The declaration also allows the use of the Washington National Guard, if necessary.

Dr Jeffrey Duchin, a Seattle and King county health official who works with the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said the person who died was a man in his 50s.

Health officials in California, Oregon and Washington state are worried about Covid-19 spreading through West Coast communities after confirming at least three patients were infected by unknown means. The patients had not visited an area where there was an outbreak, nor apparently been in contact with anyone who had.

Mr Trump said healthy Americans should be able to recover if they contract the new virus, as he tried to reassure Americans and global markets spooked by the virus threat.

On Friday, health officials confirmed a second case of Covid-19 in the US in a person who did not travel internationally or have close contact with anyone who had the virus. The US has a total of about 60 confirmed cases.

But Mr Trump encouraged Americans not to alter their daily routines, saying "there's no reason to panic at all".

He said: "You're talking about 22 people right now in this whole very vast country. I think we'll be in very good shape."

Mr Trump spoke a day after he denounced criticism of his response to the threat as a "hoax" cooked up by his political enemies. Speaking at a rally in South Carolina he accused Democrats of "politicising" the coronavirus threat and boasted about preventive steps he has ordered in an attempt to keep the virus that originated in China from spreading across the United States. Those steps include barring entry by most foreign nationals who had recently visited China.

"They tried the impeachment hoax. ... This is their new hoax," Mr Trump said of Democratic denunciations of his administration's coronavirus response.

Mr Trump said he was not trying to minimise the threat of the virus.

"Again, the hoax was used in respect to Democrats and what they were saying," he said.

Mr Trump alongside vice president Mike Pence
Mr Trump alongside vice president Mike Pence (AP/Andrew Harnik)

Some Democrats have said Mr Trump could have acted sooner to bolster the US response to the virus. Democratic and Republican members of Congress have also said his request for an additional 2.5 billion dollars to defend against the virus is not enough. They have signalled they will provide substantially more funding.

Mr Trump said Democrats want him to fail and argued that steps he has taken so far have kept cases to a minimum and prevented virus deaths in the US.

As global markets plunged this week, Mr Trump predicted they will come back, and encouraged the US Federal Reserve to cut interest rates.

He said: "The markets will all come back. I think the Fed has a very important role, especially psychological. If you look at it, the Fed has a massive impact."