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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Senior Trump administration officials discussed shutting down travel from Italy and South Korea as the coronavirus outbreak worsened in those countries, but ultimately decided the virus is spreading too quickly to be contained, sources with direct knowledge of the discussions tell Axios.

Why it matters: It's extremely difficult to contain a viral outbreak in a globalized society, and if such a strategy isn't likely to be much help, it's even harder to justify the diplomatic, logistical and economic consequences.

What we're hearing: Several federal agencies, including the State and Defense departments, were concerned about cutting off travel from those countries because the U.S. has a strong military presence in South Korea and Italy's central location in the European Union would complicate restrictions, the sources said.

  • Public health officials involved in the talks also tended to not favor travel bans, which informed the ultimate decision not to restrict travel from Italy and South Korea, one of the sources said.
  • "You want to move towards mitigating, knowing that once you figure out that the virus is spreading consistently across America or in certain spots, there's diminishing returns," the source said.
  • While curtailing travel to China was viewed as having a high return in the early days of the outbreak, the same wasn't true of Italy and South Korea — especially because the virus is spreading through other European countries beyond Italy, the source added.

Vice President Mike Pence's chief of staff Marc Short told Axios he wouldn't "comment specifically on conversations we have inside the WH Situation Room and disappointed other[s] do, but the purpose of the task force in part is to allow discussion around many points of view to try to reach the best recommendation possible to deliver to the President. Many viewpoints are represented every day."

What's next: Trump has just arrived on Capitol Hill to discuss options for combatting the economic effects of the coronavirus with Senate Republicans. Pence, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow, and trade adviser Peter Navarro are also attending the meeting.

Go deeper

Anti-Trump lawmakers' private security expenses ballooned after Jan. 6 riot

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on April 14. Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Image

Members of Congress are spending tens of thousands of dollars on personal security for them and their families in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot, according to an analysis of first-quarter Federal Election Commission reports by Punchbowl News.

Between the lines: Private security expenditures were especially common among anti-Trump Republicans and high-profile Democrats who earlier this year voted to impeach and convict the former president for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot, signaling they fear for the safety of themselves and their families.

58 mins ago - World

Jimmy Lai among Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders sentenced to prison

Students standing under a banner during a flag raising ceremony on the first annual National Security Education Day in Hong Kong. Photo: Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A Hong Kong court sentenced a group of the city's most prominent pro-democracy activists to up to 18 months in prison Friday for organizing a massive unauthorized protest in August 2019 that drew an estimated 1.7 million people, AP reports.

Why it matters: Critics say the sentences send the message that even peaceful pro-democracy activism will be severely punished. They mark a continuation of Beijing's overhaul of Hong Kong's political structure, designed to crack down opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.

Local news moves to the inbox

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A slew of new companies are launching platforms for local newsletters, a shift that could help finally bring the local news industry into the digital era.

Driving the news: Substack, the email publishing platform for independent journalists, on Thursday announced a new local news platform.