The US response to the coronavirus epidemic keeps escalating. The uncertainty generated by the potential pandemic was partly responsible for the Dow Jones Industrial Index losing 600 points on Friday. As of Monday evening, the number of confirmed patients in the US stands at 11, after three more cases were recorded on Sunday, including the second case of direct person-to-person transmission in the US, this time in California, after the one in Chicago last week. A total of 260 individuals who may have come into contact with the 11 patients are being monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for symptoms of the disease.
The government has announced a public health emergency and new restrictions on the entry of people from China into the country, including the first mandatory quarantines in 50 years and a ban on the entry of Chinese citizens that recalls the infamous Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. As of Sunday, foreign citizens who have recently visited China will not be allowed to enter the United States, while American citizens—or close relatives of citizens—may be subject to a two-week quarantine on their return.
This was also the case for the passengers on the charter flight arranged last week by the State Department to evacuate non-essential personnel from Wuhan, the city that was ground zero for the epidemic. The plane carried between 195 and 210 people (there were inconsistencies among the figures reported) from the outbreak-stricken city back to the US. The passengers on this evacuation flight were selected by prioritizing those who were most “at risk,” thus giving preference to the elderly, those with pre-existing diseases and children. There was no lack of controversy about the criteria for the selection.
The passengers on the Boeing aircraft disembarked at March Air Reserve Base, an air force base near Riverside, about 100 km east of Los Angeles. After some early conflicting information, it now appears that they will have to remain there until Feb. 11, 14 days after their departure from China, a period that corresponds to the probable incubation period of the coronavirus.
A spokesman has said that the “guests,” who are mostly State Department employees, understand the situation, even though there has been at least one attempt to leave the base, which was stopped by the authorities. Riverside County Health Commissioner Cameron Kaiser said on Wednesday that they had attempted to give the quarantined “the most comfortable accommodation,” adding that there would also be arrangements at the base to watch the Super Bowl final.
Further preventive measures regarding travel outside the US are set to be announced. To facilitate controls, as of Saturday, all air traffic coming from China was directed to seven airports: Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Honolulu, Atlanta, Seattle and San Francisco, where special medical checks for passengers have been set up.
Meanwhile, following warnings issued by the State Department, US airlines have all announced restrictions of their flights to China.
American Airlines has suspended all flights to and from China until March 27. Delta has also decided on a full suspension of flights, but delayed until Friday in order to give anyone who wants to leave the country in the next few days the opportunity to do so. United will also suspend its flights to China starting on Feb. 6, leaving only its San Francisco-Hong Kong route in operation. These travel restrictions have been implemented in spite of the fact that the WHO has said they were not necessary at this point.