U.S. Capitol Building
FILE - This Dec. 31, 2019, file photo shows a view of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington. Congress is shutting the Capitol and all House and Senate office buildings to the public until April in reaction to the spread of the coronavirus. 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is shutting the Capitol to the public until April in reaction to , officials announced Thursday, a rare step that underscores the growing gravity with which the government is reacting to the viral outbreak.

In a statement, the House and Senate sergeants at arms said congressional office buildings and the Congressional Visitor Center, through which tourists enter the Capitol, were also being shuttered.

Only lawmakers, staff, journalists and visitors with official business will be permitted to enter the buildings. The closures begin at 5 p.m. EDT Thursday, and the buildings are scheduled to reopen on April 1.

The officials said they were acting on the advice of District of Columbia health officials and of Congress' own doctors.

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

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.

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