WASHINGTON • The White House on Sunday said it was restricting travel from Brazil to the United States, two days after the South American nation became the world’s No. 2 hot spot for coronavirus cases.
The travel ban was a blow to right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has followed the example of US President Donald Trump in addressing the pandemic, fighting calls for social distancing and touting unproven drugs.
The Brazilian President’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
“The US maintains a strong partnership with Brazil and we work closely to mitigate the socioeconomic and health impacts of Covid-19 in Brazil,” the US Embassy in Brasilia said in a statement.
The new restrictions will come into force on Thursday, the embassy said, prohibiting most non-US citizens from travelling to the US if they have been in Brazil in the last two weeks.
Green card holders, close relatives of US citizens and flight crew members, among select others, would be exempt.
Brazil’s Foreign Ministry called it a technical decision in the context of “important bilateral collaboration” to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, highlighting US donations of US$6.5 million (S$9.3 million) and a new White House promise of 1,000 respirators.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the new restrictions would help ensure foreign nationals do not bring additional infections to the US, but would not apply to the flow of commerce between the two countries.
National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien earlier on Sunday told CBS’ Face The Nation that he hoped the move could be reconsidered at some point.
“We hope that’ll be temporary, but because of the situation in Brazil, we’re going to take every step necessary to protect the American people,” Mr O’Brien said.
An adviser to Brazil’s President played down Mr Trump’s move, highlighting shared views on fighting the virus with unproven anti-malarial drugs such as hydroxychloroquine.
“There is nothing specific against Brazil,” tweeted Mr Filipe Martins, an adviser on international affairs to Mr Bolsonaro.
We hope that’ll be temporary, but because of the situation in Brazil, we’re going to take every step necessary to protect the American people.
NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER ROBERT O’BRIEN, telling CBS’ Face The Nation.
Two hours earlier, he wrote that Mr Trump had “opened a direct line for the exchange of information about the protocol for using hydroxychloroquine and other treatments for the virus”.
The US Food and Drug Administration warned last month about using the drug to treat the Covid-19 respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, citing “reports of serious heart rhythm problems” in patients receiving the medicine.
Mr Bolsonaro’s insistence on the drug’s potential and defiance of state isolation orders pushed out two health ministers – both trained doctors – in a month.
The acting head of the Health Ministry, an army general, issued guidelines this week to expand use of the drug in coronavirus cases.
Brazil’s Health Ministry raised its tally of confirmed cases by 15,813 on Sunday to 363,211 cases, second in the world behind the US, where the total exceeds 1.6 million cases.
Brazil’s death toll, which often slows over the weekend due to reporting delays, rose by 653 confirmed fatalities on Sunday to 22,666 dead in total, well behind nearly 100,000 US deaths.
Mr O’Brien said the US will look at restrictions for other countries in the southern hemisphere on a country-by-country basis.
Mr Trump suspended entry for most travellers from China, where the outbreak began, in January.
In early March, he imposed travel restrictions on people coming from Europe.