Sweeping travel restrictions related to the Wuhan coronavirus are now in effect at US airports, but there are still questions about how the new rules will be enforced.
“Everyone has been trying to nail down clarifications on the travel ban. There were questions along the line like ‘How is this going to work? What are going to be the procedures?’ and ‘What are the details on a quarantine?'” an official at a major West Coast airport told CNN.
The official’s airport is one of the 11 designated airports for coronavirus screenings and possible self-quarantine under new rules that went into effect Sunday afternoon.
The West Coast airport official expressed concern that the airport had not prepared for large numbers of potentially sick people.
“We have identified a couple of spaces in the airport facility that we can block off and contain people,” the source said, adding that training scenarios have generally only involved preparation for small numbers of sick.
More than 20,000 cases of Wuhan coronavirus have been confirmed worldwide, including 11 in the United States. At least 427 people have died from the virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern.
The US began implementing travel restrictions Sunday in an effort to contain the outbreak. The plan includes temporarily denying entry to foreign nationals who visited China in the 14 days prior to their arrival to the United States. Meanwhile, US citizens who have been in China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, in the two weeks prior to their return to the United States will be subject to a mandatory quarantine of up to 14 days prior to their return, according to the new rules.
And US citizens returning from the rest of mainland China in the 14 days prior will undergo health screenings at the selected ports of entry and face up to 14 days of self-monitored quarantine, according to the plan.
Flights carrying US citizens who have traveled to China are being rerouted to John F. Kennedy in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Honolulu, Dallas, Detroit, Newark and Washington’s Dulles.
Local officials criticize the ‘rush job’
Some leaders from those areas are still working to understand and implement the plan.
Hawaii said it is still looking for places to house quarantined people if necessary, but that military bases will likely be the choice.
“We will be prepared. We are spending 24/7 on this to make sure that whatever steps necessary be taken to keep our people safe,” Hawaii Lt. Gov. Josh Green told CNN affiliate KITV in an interview on Sunday. “But we never like a rushed job and that’s kind of what the federal government did to us by just announcing this on Friday,”
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters the city is implementing additional screenings and mobilizing first responders, but that “there’s a need for clear operational guidance” and federal authorities “need all to get on the same page.”
“Local law enforcement, local support should not be on the frontlines without a clear federal mandate on these nuanced questions that come from the mandate to quarantine people who are coming from the particular province,” Lightfoot said. “And also for people who are supposed to self-quarantine, what does that mean?”
Canadian citizen turned away at the border
At least one person has already been turned away under the new rules. A Canadian citizen was turned back at the northern border, acting Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Ken Cuccinelli said on Monday.
“We’re just beginning, today, to see results of implementation,” Cuccinelli said. Additionally, the Coast Guard held a ship offshore in Puget Sound until it got past the 14-day time period and no passenger showed symptoms.
It’s not clear whether anyone else has been turned back as part of the proclamation.
California father waits to reunite with wife and children
San Diego resident Kenneth Burnett’s wife Yanjun Wei, 3-year-old son Rowan, and 1-year-old daughter Mia have been trapped in Wuhan, China, due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Burnett was supposed to join his family to celebrate the Chinese New Year but the city was shut down, he told CNN. Wei told him that she and their children have been holed up in a high-rise apartment.
“It’s terrifying. It is very dramatic to shut down a city of 50 million people. You think to yourself, if that can happen what else can happen?” Burnett said.
Burnett and Wei had been trying to get in contact with the State Department and the US Embassy in China for help, and now Burnett said the three are tentatively booked on the next evacuation flight out.
“We think my wife and kids will get seats but they basically they won’t guarantee anything. They’ll say maybe the Chinese authorities won’t allow it. We know that other countries have not had some of these problems. We feel like other countries haven’t felt this problem,” he said.
China says US is feeding mass hysteria
The United States issued a level 4 travel advisory warning residents not to travel to China, adding that most commercial air carriers have reduced or suspended flights to and from the country.
A spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry accused the US government Monday of responding inappropriately to the outbreak and feeding mass hysteria.
“Most countries appreciate and support China’s efforts to fight against the novel coronavirus, and we understand and respect them when they adopt or enhance quarantine measures at border entry,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
“But in the meantime, some countries, the US in particular, have inappropriately overreacted, which certainly runs counter to WHO advice.”