Coronavirus Cases Soar; US Travel Restrictions Begin – And China Complains

Patrick Goodenough | February 2, 2020 | 6:52pm EST
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Passengers from Asia arrive at Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday. Later in the day, enforcement of new travel restrictions began. (Photo by Mark Ralson/AFP via Getty Images)
Passengers from Asia arrive at Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday. Later in the day, enforcement of new travel restrictions began. (Photo by Mark Ralson/AFP via Getty Images)

( – Travel restrictions aimed at containing the novel China-originated coronavirus have taken effect in the United States, following sharp criticism from Beijing. Meanwhile the number of confirmed cases and deaths more than doubled over the weekend, passing 17,000 cases early Monday China time, with a total of 362 deaths.

Despite the fact that a number of other countries have taken similar measures to the U.S. – including the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Singapore, Iraq, Qatar, Israel, Italy, Australia and New Zealand – China’s foreign ministry chose to direct its displeasure at the United States.

“Many countries have offered China help and support through various ways,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Saturday. “In contrast, the U.S. comments and actions are neither based on facts, nor helpful at this particular time.”

Hua said that although the World Health Organization (WHO) advises against travel restrictions, “the U.S. has decided to act in the opposite way. This has set a bad example. It is certainly not a gesture of goodwill.”

She said nothing about restrictions being put in place by a growing number of other countries – including some where no confirmed cases of the pneumonia-like respiratory illness have yet been reported. (There are now nine confirmed cases in the U.S., with word on another roughly 120 potential cases awaited.)

A post on the Chinese foreign ministry’s Twitter feed also – indirectly – criticized the U.S., stating that a “certain country has turned a blind eye to WHO recommendations and imposed sweeping travel restrictions against China. This kind of overreaction could only make things even worse. It’s not the right way.”

The Communist Party-affiliated Global Times in an editorial called the U.S. stance “immoral” and said that “some countries … should not hurt Chinese people’s feelings when China is in temporary difficulties.”

In her comments, Hua also criticized remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who told Fox Business on Friday that effects of the outbreak could include a speeding up of a return of jobs to North America.

Ross was responding to a question about the potential economic impact of the crisis, given the size of the Chinese economy and its importance to global growth.

He did begin by stating that “every American’s heart has to go out to the victims of the coronavirus” and adding that he does not “want to talk about a victory lap over a very unfortunate, very malignant disease.”

But the quote that received most coverage was him saying this latest outbreak was “another risk factor that people need to take into account. So I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America, some to U.S., probably some to Mexico as well.”

Hua called the remarks “unfriendly.”

Mandatory quarantine

As of mid-morning Monday Beijing time, the number of confirmed cases of the “2019-nCoV” coronavirus stands at 17,318, with 17,137 of those in mainland China.

(Graph: / Data: Center for Systems Science and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University)
(Graph: / Data: Center for Systems Science and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University)

The number of people who have died stands at 362. All are in China, apart from one death reported in the Philippines on Sunday.

(Graph: / Data: Center for Systems Science and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University)
(Graph: / Data: Center for Systems Science and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University)

As announced by HHS Secretary Alex Azar on Friday, with effect from 5 PM eastern time on Sunday, any foreign national who has visited China in the previous 14 days is being temporarily denied entry into the U.S. Permanent residents and immediate family members of U.S. citizens are exempt.

For U.S. citizens, anyone who has been in Hubei province – the epicenter of the outbreak – within the past 14 days is to be placed under mandatory quarantine for up to a fortnight. U.S. citizens who have been in other parts of China over that period are to be screened and placed under self-monitored quarantine for up to 14 days.

Americans flying into the U.S. from China are being rerouted to one of seven airports – JFK, O’Hare in Chicago, San Francisco International, Los Angeles International, Seattle-Tacoma International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International in Georgia, or Inouye International in Hawaii – where Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials will attempt to identify those ill or potentially ill.

Airlines have suspended services to China include Delta, American, United, Air France, Qatar, and Qantas.

More cases than SARS, MERS but not as lethal

The WHO says it “advises against the application of any restrictions of international traffic based on the information currently available on this event.”

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom stressed that stance at a press conference in Geneva on Thursday, during which he also praised Beijing’s handling of the crisis – in contrast to criticism from other sources.

“The WHO doesn’t recommend and actually opposes any restrictions for travel and trade or other measures against China,” he said.

WHO’s emergency committee did acknowledge that “in certain specific circumstances, measures that restrict the movement of people may prove temporarily useful, such as in settings with limited response capacities and capabilities, or where there is high intensity of transmission among vulnerable populations.”

The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, which emerged in December in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, has now exceeded those of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China in 2002-2003 (some 8,100 confirmed cases) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS) in 2013 (just under 2,500 cases).

But the Wuhan coronavirus as of now has a considerably lower mortality rate – currently around two percent, compared to 10 percent for SARS (more 770 people died) and 34 percent for MERS (858 associated deaths).

In an article published in The Lancet, University of Hong Kong researchers estimate that the actual number of 2019-nCoV cases in Wuhan alone as of January 25 could be as high as 75,815, based on the assumption that each person with the virus could pass it on to between two and three others. (The official number of confirmed cases in Hubei province as of early Monday is 9,074).

They warned that if that transmission level was applicable to the rest of China, then “we inferred that epidemics are already growing exponentially in multiple major cities of China with a lag time behind the Wuhan outbreak of about 1–2 weeks.”


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