The Trump Administration on Friday declared an outbreak of novel coronavirus a public health emergency in the U.S. and announced that it will temporarily deny entry to any foreign national who “poses a risk” of transmitting the virus.
Specifically, the Administration will temporarily deny entry to any foreign national who has been in China, members of the Trump Administration’s Coronavirus Task Force announced Friday. The policy’s only exceptions are for immediate family of American citizens and permanent U.S. residents.
Additional new temporary measures will take effect beginning Sunday at 5 p.m., U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced Friday. Americans returning to the U.S. who were in Hubei province — the epicenter of the outbreak — 14 days prior to returning to the country will be subject to up to 14 days of a mandatory quarantine, “to ensure they’re provided proper medical care and health screening,” Azar told reporters at a White House press briefing.
Additionally, any citizens who were in mainland China 14 days prior to returning to the U.S. will be placed in a “self-imposed” quarantine for 14 days. They will also undergo a health screening at selected ports of entry upon arrival.
Despite these drastic measures, Azar emphasized that risk to the American public remains low, and said these efforts are a way to keep risk low. Nearly 10,000 people have been infected by the virus worldwide and 213 have died, mostly in mainland China.
The decision stands in contrast to remarks made just yesterday by the World Health Organization (WHO), which declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) but emphasized that “there is no reason for measures that unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade.” The agency reiterated that it “doesn’t recommend limiting trade and movement.”
“The actions we have taken and continue to take complement the work of China and the World Health Organization to contain the outbreak within China,” Azar said.
The WHO traditionally opposes limiting travel, since it can stigmatize those who are sick, force people in affected areas to move through underground channels and discourage nations from aiding public-health response efforts. The agency made similar warnings last year, when it declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo a PHEIC.
The U.S. has been unusually aggressive in its travel policies during the coronavirus outbreak. Earlier Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that it would quarantine 195 people who were evacuated to California from the outbreak’s epicenter in Wuhan for a period of 14 days. The U.S. has not enacted a quarantine for at least 50 years, CDC officials said on a call with reporters Friday, calling the agency’s decision an “unprecedented” response to an “unprecedented public-health threat.”
Twenty major U.S. airports are also set up to screen travelers for signs of coronavirus.
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Contributor: Jasmine Aguilera and Jamie Ducharme