Tulsi Gabbard Calls for Suspension of Flights from Japan and South Korea to Hawaii Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

tulsi gabbard democratic debate abc
Democratic Presidential hopeful Representative Tulsi Gabbard participates in a TV interview at the U.S. Capitol on January 9 in Washington, D.C. Gabbard won't be on Friday's debate stage because she failed to meet the polling qualifications. Alex Wong/Getty

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard called for the suspension of flights from Japan and South Korea Thursday amid the novel coronavirus outbreak of the disease COVID-19.

"It is irresponsible for our leaders to endanger the health and well-being of Hawaii's people by continuing to allow this travel from Japan and South Korea," Gabbard said in a YouTube video. "We must now suspend flights coming from Japan and South Korea, where the coronavirus has been spreading."

The Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate acknowledged that such a measure would lead to "economic hardship" but that those consequences would "pale in comparison to the cost in lives and economic damage to Hawaii."

"The first responsibility of our leaders is to protect the health safety and security of the people of Hawaii and our country," Gabbard stated. "Once [the coronavirus] enters Hawaii it will spread like wildfire. Then it'll be too late. We need to take this action now to protect the people of Hawaii and our country."

Gabbard also said the U.S. is using similar procedures to those enacted during the SARS epidemic, which are "insufficient" because "the coronavirus spreads much more easily than SARS."

Gabbard called the temporary travel restrictions President Donald Trump levied on China "very helpful."

When Trump first announced the travel restrictions, a World Health Organization official said, "there was no need for measures that 'unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade' in trying to halt the spread of a coronavirus," differing with the views held by U.S health officials.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar told reporters that "career public health officials" recommended the travel restrictions to Trump. "These are steps really meant to slow down the spread. It's not meant to hermetically seal the United States from the virus, but rather to allow us to focus our resources," Azar said at the time.

At a White House press conference called by the president Wednesday, Azar praised Trump's "early and decisive actions" in implementing the travel restrictions, saying it bought the U.S. "incredibly valuable time."

"This has helped us contain the spread of the virus, handle the cases that we have, and prepare for the possibility that we will need to mitigate broader spread of infections within the United States. The president's actions taken with the strong support of his scientific advisers have proven to be appropriate, wise, and well-calibrated," Azar said.

Asked if he would add travel restrictions to more countries, Trump replied, "At the right time we may do that, but right now it's not the right time."

According to WHO, over 82,000 people have been infected with COVID-19 across six continents. China, the county at the epicenter of the epidemic, has seen the most cases and the majority of deaths related to the disease. Over 2,700 people have died from COVID-19 worldwide, including 57 outside of China.

In the U.S. there are 60 confirmed cases of the virus, Azar said on Thursday, including 42 Americans who were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship when an outbreak occurred. Three others are U.S. citizens who were evacuated by the government from Wuhan, China, the city where the virus originated, and another 14 patients recently traveled to China or had a spouse who recently traveled to the country. The most recent case, in California, is the only documented patient to have not traveled outside of the U.S.

How that individual contracted the disease is currently unknown.

Gabbard, the White House and the Department of Homeland Security were contacted for comment on this story, but did not reply by publication time.