WASHINGTON/BRASILIA (Reuters) – 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 hotspot for coronavirus cases.
The travel ban was a blow to right-wing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has followed the example of U.S. 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 U.S. maintains a strong partnership with Brazil and we work closely to mitigate the socioeconomic and health impacts of COVID-19 in Brazil,” the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia said in a statement.
The new restrictions come into force on May 28, the embassy said, prohibiting most non-U.S. citizens from traveling to the United States if they have been in Brazil in the last two weeks. Green card holders, close relatives of U.S. 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 U.S. donations of $6.5 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 United States, 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” 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,” O’Brien said.
An advisor to Brazil’s president played down 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 Filipe Martins, an advisor on international affairs to Bolsonaro.
Two hours earlier, he wrote that Trump had “opened a direct line for the exchange of information about the protocol for using hydroxychloroquine and other treatments for the virus.”
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned last month about using the drug to treat the COVID-19 respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, citing “reports of serious heart rhythm problems” in patients receiving the medicine.
Bolsonaro’s insistence on the drug’s potential and defiance of state isolation orders pushed out two health ministers in a month, both trained doctors. 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 United States, with more than 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 U.S. deaths.
(Reporting by Alexandra Alper, Pete Schroeder, Doina Chiacu and Anthony Boadle; Additional reporting by David Shephardson, Gabriela Mello, Ricardo Brito; Editing by Brad Haynes, Lisa Shumaker, Sonya Hepinstall and Diane Craft)