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Congress closes Capitol, congressional offices to public amid coronavirus concerns

Tourists take pictures and selfies outside Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., April 29, 2019. (REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)
March 12, 2020

The U.S. Capitol and nearby congressional office buildings will be closed to the public until April over the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger issued a joint statement Thursday announcing the closures, Fox News reported. The restrictions will go into effect at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday and continue for nearly three weeks, through to April 1.

“Following the guidance of the medical community, particularly the recent recommendation of DC Health, and in consultation with the Office of Attending Physician, the Sergeants at Arms of the House of Representatives and Senate have issued a temporary closure of the Capitol Visitors Center to all tours,” the joint statement read.

The Capitol will remain open to lawmakers and their staff, credentialed members of the press, and business visitors.

“We are taking this temporary action out of concern for the health and safety of congressional employees as well as the public,” the statement went on. “We appreciate the understanding of those with planned visits interrupted by this necessary, but prudent, decision.”

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The announcement comes on the day after President Donald Trump addressed the nation and banned travel to and from Europe over the coronavirus concerns. Trump’s European travel ban is set to last 30 days but will not include the United Kingdom.

“We made a lifesaving move with early action on China,” Trump said on Wednesday night. “Now we must take the same action with Europe.”

The closure at the U.S. Capitol also comes on the day after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus to be a global pandemic, given its rapid spread outside its country of origin, in China.

“WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We have therefore made the assessment that COVID19 can be characterized as a pandemic.”

According to John Hopkins’ latest tracking data on Thursday morning, there are now 127,863 confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, of which 68,310 have recovered, and 4,718 have died. There are now 1,323 U.S. coronavirus cases and 38 people in the U.S. have died.

The Pentagon also announced travel restrictions on Wednesday due to the coronavirus.

Various public events in the U.S., such as the SXSW festival have also been canceled and the ongoing NCAA March Madness tournament is being played without fans due to concern about the potential transmission of the coronavirus.