February 1, 2020

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U.S. Imposes Entry Restrictions Over Coronavirus

The U.S. imposed entry restrictions on foreign nationals and quarantines on Americans returning from the...


The U.S. imposed entry restrictions on foreign nationals and quarantines on Americans returning from the Chinese province at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, as markets tumbled over fears about the impact on global growth.

Health and Human Services Secretary

Alex Azar

declared a public health emergency Friday. He said foreign citizens who have traveled anywhere in China within the past 14 days would be denied U.S. entry, while Americans who visited Hubei province would be quarantined for up to two weeks.

At the same time, Mr. Azar sought to minimize fears about the virus spreading further in the U.S. “I hope that people will see that their government is taking responsible steps to protect them,” he said at a White House briefing. “The risk is low…but our job is to keep that risk low.”

There are seven confirmed cases in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, while 191 other people are being checked for possible infection, HHS officials said. The number of people infected in China approached 12,000 as the death toll from the pneumonia-causing virus rose to 259 as of late Friday, according to China’s National Health Commission.

The quarantine of 195 Americans who were evacuated earlier this week from Hubei province—the first in the U.S. ordered by the federal government in roughly 50 years—came as the U.K. and Russia each reported their first cases of the virus, while other countries moved to limit air traffic with China.

The Americans will be quarantined at a California military base for 14 days after their departure from China to prevent any spread of the disease, the CDC said.

Anxiety swept through stock, bond and metals markets as investors reached for traditionally safer assets like Treasurys and gold. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 606 points, or 2.1%.

The outbreak continued to weigh on global travel and commerce. Major U.S. airlines, including

American Airlines Group Inc.,

Delta Air Lines Inc.

and United Airlines Holdings Inc., said Friday they were suspending flights between the U.S. and mainland China, joining other international carriers, including

British Airways

and Indonesia’s Lion Air.

American ended flights starting Friday. Delta and United said they would stop flights next week to accommodate customers planning to leave China. The carriers expected to maintain the suspension through early spring.

In Asia, Pakistan said it would ban all commercial air travel to and from mainland China, a day after Italy suspended flights to Taiwan and China, including the territory of Hong Kong, until April 28. Russia, too, said it would suspend certain flights to China, excluding the regular flights by its flagship carrier,

Aeroflot.

Meantime Friday, China’s Foreign Ministry portrayed the U.S. move to raise its travel alert as an expression of ill will. On Thursday, the State Department advised Americans in China to consider leaving and requested all nonessential U.S. government personnel to postpone travel there.

The State Department’s “Do Not Travel” advice—which placed China on the same list as Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, North Korea and Venezuela—followed the World Health Organization’s designation Thursday of the coronavirus as a global public-health emergency. But WHO said there was no reason to limit travel or trade as a result of the outbreak.

“Many countries have offered China support in various means. In sharp contrast, certain U.S. officials’ words and actions are neither factual nor appropriate,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman

Hua Chunying

said. “Just as the WHO recommended against travel restrictions, the U.S. rushed to go in the opposite way.”

The Chinese statement also came after U.S. Commerce Secretary

Wilbur Ross

said the outbreak in China could help bring jobs back to America, a remark criticized as insensitive to China’s plight.

The Commerce Department later said it was important “to consider the ramifications of doing business with a country that has a long history of covering up real risks to its own people and the rest of the world.”

The CDC called the quarantine move for returning Americans precautionary and preventive, while describing the immediate risk to the general U.S. public as low. “If we take strong measures now we may be able to blunt the impact of the virus on the U.S.,” said

Nancy Messonnier,

director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC.

The two-week federal quarantine isolates the passengers for the amount of time that public health experts believe is the upper end of the likely incubation period. Previously, health officials said the Americans would be allowed to go home after three days if they tested negative for the virus and hadn’t shown symptoms. CDC officials said Friday, however, that testing might not detect the virus before symptoms develop.

The officials said they were ordering the quarantine because of a case in Germany in which a person might have spread the virus to another person before developing symptoms, as well as the rapidly increasing number of cases and reports of person-to-person transmission. The U.S. is planning to evacuate more Americans from the Hubei city of Wuhan as early as Monday.

Gilead Sciences Inc.

based in Foster City, Calif., said Friday that it had provided doses of an experimental antiviral drug to doctors for the emergency treatment of a small number of patients infected by coronavirus.

Gilead also said that it has formalized an agreement with Chinese authorities to conduct a clinical trial of the drug remdesivir in patients infected with coronavirus.

A plane carrying nearly 200 Americans arrived at March Air Force Base in Riverside County, Calif., on Wednesday. They have been screened multiple times and will be temporarily housed at the airbase. Photo: Matt Hartman/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The last quarantine in the U.S. ordered by the federal government occurred in the 1960s to prevent the spread of smallpox, said

Martin Cetron,

director of the Division of Global Migration and Quarantine at the CDC.

Singapore’s Health Ministry said it would expand its coronavirus-related entry restrictions to include any visitors who had traveled to mainland China in the previous 14 days and deny visas to all Chinese passport holders. Previously, Singapore had refused entry to those who had traveled to Hubei, the Chinese province where the virus first originated, or had their passport issued there.

The flurry of measures came hours after WHO and the U.S. elevated their coronavirus alerts. The number of people sickened by the virus in China now exceeds the global total infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which killed nearly 800 people after emerging from southern China in late 2002 and into 2003.

Russia’s first two coronavirus cases were both Chinese citizens, official Russian news agencies reported, citing the government.

The U.K.’s National Health Service said Friday that its first two confirmed cases were members of the same family in England.

Italy’s decision to halt air travel to China came after a Chinese couple in Rome were confirmed as having the virus. The country also declared a six-month medical state of emergency, which gives its central government extra powers to deal with suspected virus cases quickly and cut through Italian bureaucracy.

China made its first move to repatriate citizens abroad who wanted to return to the country. It arranged planes to bring home residents of Hubei province. Ms. Hua, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said Friday that its efforts were prompted by Hubei natives facing “actual difficulties” overseas. She didn’t elaborate.

The impact of the new coronavirus virus has rippled across the globe. Workers in protective suits at Vladivostok airport in Russia.


Photo:

Yuri Smityuk/Zuma Press

Xiamen Air, which is majority-owned by

China Southern Airlines Co.,

said it was flying one plane each on Friday to Bangkok and Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia—two popular tourist destinations—to take people to Wuhan. State broadcaster China Central Television reported that a flight operated by

Spring Airlines

was expected to bring 350 people from Tokyo back to Wuhan early Saturday.

Other governments, meantime, were scrambling to extricate their nationals from Wuhan, which has been on lockdown for more than a week as Chinese authorities try to contain the virus’s spread.

The French government repatriated a few hundred citizens from Wuhan, authorities said. They will stay for 14 days under medical supervision near Marseille. Six cases of the infection have been identified in the country.

A plane chartered by the U.K. with 110 Britons and citizens of other countries left Wuhan and landed in Britain on Friday, the U.K. government said. The flight was scheduled to continue to Spain after a U.K. stopover.

As part of China’s efforts to try to prevent the virus’s spread, China’s national railway operator said ticket buyers would need to provide mobile phone numbers for every passenger, starting Saturday—a move intended to allow authorities to contact anyone who had been on a train with a potential patient.

In Hong Kong, which has a handful of confirmed cases of the virus, school closures were extended until early March, city Chief Executive

Carrie Lam

said Friday.

Write to Alex Leary at [email protected] and Brianna Abbott at [email protected]

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