By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Travelers entering the United States from Italy, South Korea and Iran will face new restrictions as part of efforts to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, President Donald Trump and U.S. health officials said on Saturday.
The United States is also considering imposing restrictions on the border with Mexico, they said. Americans should not restrict their travel within the United States, officials said, but should be wary of going to coronavirus-hit areas in South Korea and Italy.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who was named by Trump to run the White House's coronavirus response on Feb. 26, said the United States would also work with Italy and South Korea to coordinate screening in those countries of travelers planning to enter the United States.
Pence also said existing restrictions on travelers from Iran would be expanded to include any foreign nationals who have visited that country in the last 14 days. He said Trump's unprecedented action to suspend all travel to the United States from China was one of the reasons the threat to Americans from the coronavirus remained low.
Trump said the United States is also considering closing the country's border with Mexico.
After Saturday's press conference, the White House held a conference call with airlines to discuss new travel restrictions. The outbreak is disrupting international travel demand and many airlines have suspended flights or modified service in response.
Trump said he would meet with pharmaceutical companies on Monday to discuss potential vaccines. Earlier on Saturday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it would let some laboratories use coronavirus tests they have developed and validated to achieve more rapid testing capacity.
The risk to any average American from coronavirus remains low, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said at Saturday's press conference. But he cautioned that could change rapidly. "We want to lower the amount of travel to and from the areas most impacted by coronavirus," Azar said.
Robert Redfield, who leads the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection, said Americans should expect more cases of coronavirus in clusters in the coming days.
"We are super prepared," Trump said, pointing to resources that the United States has on hand to counter the spread of coronavirus, such as 43 million face masks.
Anthony Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at the press conference that between 15 and 20 percent of people who get coronavirus will need advanced medical care.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Additional reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by Paul Simao and Daniel Wallis)