WASHINGTON – The Trump administration announced a ban on foreign national travel for those who have been in China within the last 14 days, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Friday. The toughest restrictions will be on those who were at the epicenter of the outbreak.
Azar said “Any U.S. citizen returning to the United States who has been in Hubei Province in the previous 14 days will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine… Any U.S. citizen returning to the United States who has been in the rest of mainland China within the previous 14 days will undergo proactive entry health screening at a select number of ports of entry and up to 14 days of monitored self-quarantine.”
Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, said all flights from China to the U.S. will go through seven airports. “Those airports are JFK, Chicago’s O’Hare, San Francisco, Seattle-Tacoma, Atlanta, Honolulu, and LAX.”
Foreign nationals, other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled in China in the last 14 days will be denied entry into the United States.
The ban will be in effect beginning at 5 p.m. ET Sunday. The basis for the temporary ban, Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters, is “the unknown of the aspects of this particular outbreak.”
The U.S., Australia, Singapore and Japan have imposed travel restrictions and Vietnam suspended all flights to China. But officials at the World Health Organization say such restrictions are often counter-productive.
“Travel restrictions can cause more harm than good by hindering info-sharing, medical supply chains and harming economies,” World Health Organization Secretary-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Dr. Eric Toner, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said governments are ultimately “trying to do something that has very little benefit but very real harm.”
“It’s been shown over and over again that putting up barriers to travel doesn’t stop contagious infectious diseases,” he said, pointing to past outbreaks of Ebola, Zika and even influenza.
Instead, he said, governments should educate people about the virus and urge people who may have been exposed to isolate themselves.
The Pentagon says Defense Secretary Mark Esper has approved a request from HHS for the possible use of military facilities to accommodate 1,000 people who may have subject to that 14-day quarantine.
A Defense Department statement said HHS would be responsible for all care, transportation and security of the evacuees. The four military facilities chosen for quarantine are in California, Colorado and Texas.
More than 11,900 people have been infected globally, the vast majority of them in China.