Coronavirus Fears Prompt U.S. to Block Travelers From China Over Public Health Emergency: What You Need to Know

Fears over the spread of the coronavirus has prompted the U.S. to block foreign nationals entering the country from China and declare a public health emergency.

President Donald Trump signed a presidential proclamation to temporarily deny entry to foreign nationals, except the immediate family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled in China in the past two weeks. The restrictions take effect from 5 p.m. ET on Sunday.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced the news at the White House press conference on Friday.

Americans returning from China's Hubei province, where the outbreak of the new virus originated, will face a mandatory quarantine for 14 days, Azar said.

Those coming back from the rest of mainland China will face screening at a select number of ports of entry and will be required to undergo 14 days of self-imposed quarantine to ensure they don't pose a public health risk.

Starting on Sunday, the U.S. will funnel all flights coming from China to just a few airports including John F. Kennedy Airport in New York and Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, according to The New York Times. On Friday, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines suspended all flights between the U.S. and China.

Azar said the president took "decisive action" to minimize the spread of the virus in the U.S. and that the "prudent, targeted and temporary" actions will reduce pressure on public health officials screening incoming travelers and ensure that resources are focused on the health and safety of Americans.

"I want to stress the risk of infections for Americans remains low and with these and our previous actions, we are working to keep the risk low," Azar said.

"It is likely that we will continue to see more cases in the United States in the coming days and weeks, including some limited person-to-person transmissions. The American public can be assured the full weight of the U.S. government is working to safeguard the health and safety of the American people."

The novel coronavirus, #2019nCoV, is not spreading in communities in the U.S. at this time. CDC is still working to contain the spread of the virus. See what is known about how 2019-nCoV spreads:

— CDC (@CDCgov) January 31, 2020

Risk of Coronavirus Infection

Speaking at a White House news conference on Friday, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that the risk of becoming infected by the virus in the U.S. is low.

"I want to emphasize that this is a significant global situation and it continues to evolve. But I also want to emphasize again that the risk at this time, to the American public, is low," he said.

The U.S Department of State on Friday issued a Level 4 "Do Not Travel" advisory for China, urging Americans not to travel there because of the virus. The advisory told Americans already in China to "consider departing using commercial means."

"Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice," the advisory added.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the spread of the virus around world as of 27 January.

Coronavirus 27 January Statista
Map illustrating the spread of coronavirus as of 27 January. Statista

So far, there are seven confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV in the U.S. All of the patients had traveled to China recently, except for a man in Chicago who contracted the virus from his wife after she visited China.

The Santa Clara Public Health Department confirmed the latest case on Friday, saying the patient is a man who traveled to Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, and Shanghai before returning to California in January 24 and falling ill, according to NBC.

The novel strain of coronavirus, which can cause pneumonia, shares symptoms with a number of other illnesses, including fever and cough, so the only way to know definitively if a person has the virus is to test a sample.

The CDC said on Friday that it has patients under investigation in 36 states, with a total of 121 patients awaiting test results.

The number of confirmed deaths from the outbreak has now surpassed 250—just days after the World Health Organization declared it a global emergency.

The death toll reached 259—all in China—on Saturday and the virus has infected almost 12,000 people, Agence France-Presse reported.

coronavirus outbreak
A man wears a medical mask out of concern over the coronavirus at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City on January 31, 2020. The virus, which has so far killed over 250 people is believed to have started in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Spencer Platt/Getty Images