U.S. restricts access from China for coronavirus; security adviser says not to panic

The coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China, and has spread to other countries, including the United States. Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

Feb. 2 (UPI) — U.S. national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Sunday that Americans should not be fearful of being infected with the coronavirus in the United States as the government takes steps to restrict travel from China, which is the epicenter of the outbreak.

Three weeks since the first death was announced in mainland China, 304 people have died from the virus. But no deaths have occurred in the United States.

“Right now, there’s no reason for Americans to- to panic,” he said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “This is something that is a low risk, we think, in the U.S.

“But President Trump, from the day he took office, made protecting Americans and keeping them safe, whether it’s from terrorists or criminal organizations or from viruses like the new novel coronavirus is top priority. So we’re taking steps to keep Americans safe and the government is functioning in that direction.”

There have been 14,380 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including eight in the United States. The most recent case is a University of Massachusetts student at the Boston campus in his 20s who returned from Wuhan on Wednesday and is now in quarantine. On Saturday, the CDC confirmed he had the virus Friday night.

The United States has declared coronavirus a public health emergency, temporarily denying entry to non-citizens who have visited China within the past 14 days. Also, citizens who have returned from Hubei in the past two weeks are subject to a mandatory quarantine for two weeks.

The Department of Homeland Security, in a news release Sunday, said the agency will begin enforcing restrictions on all flights from China at 5 p.m. Americans flying from China will be re-routed to seven airports at no additional cost: John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu, Los Angeles International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will seek to identify potentially ill persons ahead of time, DHS said.

“While the overall risk to the American public remains low, funneling all flights with passengers who have recently been in China is the most important and prudent step we can take at this time to decrease the strain on public health officials screening incoming travelers,” DHS Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf said in the news release. “We realize this could provide added stress and prolong travel times for some individuals, however public health and security experts agree these measures are necessary to contain the virus and protect the American people. To minimize disruptions, CBP [Customs and Border Protection] and air carriers are working to identify qualifying passengers before their scheduled flights.”

Multiple U.S. airlines have temporarily suspended flights to China.

China also has restricted international travel in an attempt to contain the virus.

O’Brien said the the United States has not received a response after offering assistance to China to respond to the coronavirus.

O’Brien said the United States has offered to send health professionals from the CDC and other medical and public health entities but “have not heard back from the Chinese on those offers.”

“We’ve got the greatest medical system in the world and look, this is a worldwide concern,” he said on CBS. “We want to help our Chinese colleagues if we can and we’ll see. We’ve made the offer and we’ll see if they accept the offer.”

O’Brien added that Beijing has been “more transparent” about the circumstances surrounding the coronavirus than it has with past crises, but the United States could provide help with professionals “on the ground” in China.

“Right now the Chinese are providing information to us and we’re taking that for what it’s worth but at the same time we’re monitoring ourselves,” he said. “And what we’re especially doing is monitoring the situation here in the United States to make sure Americans continue to be safe from this virus.”

The White House National Economic Council and the Council of Economic Advisers are jointly assessing the potential short-term and long-term effects of the coronavirus after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said the outbreak “will help” to persuade companies to move operations back to the United States and Mexico, The Washington Post reported.

O’Brien said he doesn’t believe Ross meant that the outbreak will help the U.S. economy at the expense of China but rather that he was describing the risk of extending U.S. supply chains internationally.

“I think what Commerce Secretary Ross is saying is there’s a danger, there’s a risk factor in doing that and wouldn’t it be better if we had supply chains and factories here in the U.S. so that our folks weren’t facing some of the risks that you face when you’re overseas,” he said.


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