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Coronavirus: US bans foreign nationals who have visited China in last two weeks from entering country

Returning citizens to be subject to quarantine as national emergency declared and airlines suspend flights

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 31 January 2020 17:46 GMT
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US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announces travel restrictions following an emergency declaration in the wake of a lethal coronavirus outbreak.
US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announces travel restrictions following an emergency declaration in the wake of a lethal coronavirus outbreak. (AFP via Getty Images)

Donald Trump has signed an order denying foreign nationals who recently visited mainland China from entering the US as the deadly coronavirus outbreak grows to an international emergency. Permanent residents and family members will be exempt from the order, which is effective 2 February.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also said that US citizens who visited Hubei province — the location of outbreak epicentre Wuhan — within the past two weeks will be subjected to a mandatory quarantine for up to two weeks.

The administration's latest move follows flight suspensions from American, Delta and United airlines after the outbreak has killed more than 200 people and sickened thousands of others.

Earlier this week, a group of US citizens were airlifted from China on a government-commissioned flight to a military air base in California, where they were screen and held as part of a quarantine order. According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 195 Americans are being quarantined following an evacuation from Wuhan. It's the first time in 50 years that such a drastic quarantine was ordered.

On Sunday, all incoming flights from China into the US will be funnelled to seven airports for enhanced screening upon landing. Acting Homeland Security Secretary Ken Cuccinelli announced that those flights will only come through Atlanta, Chicago's O'Hare, Honolulu, Los Angeles International Airport, New York's John F Kennedy International Airport, San Francisco and Seattle.

Those passengers also could be subject to two weeks of monitoring and self-quarantine.

On the heels of the World Health Organisation's declaration of a global health emergency, the US declared a national public health emergency on Friday as the outbreak spreads, impacting 10,000 people in more than a dozen countries.

At a White House update from the coronavirus task force, CDC director Robert Redfield ​said that despite the high state of alert, the risk of infection among Americans remains low. Mr Azar said "we want to keep it that way".

The agency has reported only six cases in the US, including one person who had contact with another person who was infected.

All patients had recently visited Wuhan.

The CDC reports that 191 people are under medical investigation.

National Institutes of Health official Anthony Fauci said unlike the annual influenza outbreaks the US, which have killed 8,000 people this season, there typically is a "guarantee" that those illnesses will diminish in the spring.

"This issue now with this is there's a lot of unknowns" with coronavirus as the number of cases have "steeply inclined" daily, he says.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said Mr Trump ​"is taking measured and decisive action to protect the American people against" the virus. "The current risk to the American public is low. As the Task Force recommended, we are pausing travel activities to keep it that way."

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