US President Donald Trump has announced a 30-day ban on travel from European countries to the US to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The UK is exempt from the "strong but necessary" travel order, and it will not apply to US citizens and permanent legal residents, Mr Trump said in a televised address on Wednesday evening.
"To keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe," Mr Trump said. "The new rules will go into effect Friday at midnight," he added.
A presidential proclamation issued after Mr Trump's address said the ban would apply to the 26 Schengen Area countries — possibly indicating Ireland will join the UK in exemption from the suspension — and would apply to all foreign nationals who have been in the area in the last 14 days.
Countries in the Schengen Area have abolished border control, meaning citizens and visa holders can travel freely over mutual borders. This freedom of movement, the Trump administration said, "makes the task of managing the spread of the virus difficult."
The US decision came as the WHO declared the spread of the disease a pandemic. It has now infected more than 126,000, killing 4,633. At least 68,304 have recovered.
Italy is the worst-hit European nation, with 10,149 recorded cases of Covid-19, 631 deaths, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
A European diplomat said the White House did not co-ordinate with European nations over the travel suspension, or notify them before his address.
President Donald Trump has come under criticism from Democrats for initially playing down the threat posed by the virus. Mr Trump has dismissed the accusations, saying his administration had taken early measures and that it was doing a "tremendous job" handling the crisis.
Earlier on Wednesday, the State Department said that out of caution because of the outbreak, it would hold by videoconference a planned meeting of foreign ministers of G7 countries that had been scheduled to take place later this month in Pittsburgh. It also suspended non-essential travel by staff and announced it will only permit mission-critical trips, Reuters reported on Wednesday.