Wuhan virus: US considering China travel curb options amid virus outbreak

Passengers exit customs and screening areas as they arrive at Chicago O'Hare International Airport in the US on Jan 24, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - The United States is considering new steps to counter a coronavirus outbreak that has killed over 100 people in China and nothing is off the table in terms of possible travel restrictions for China, the US health secretary said on Tuesday (Jan 28).

The US, which so far has five confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, has urged Americans to reconsider or postpone travel plans to China because of the outbreak. It also warned specifically against travel to the Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak in China with thousands of cases.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said during a news conference that he had offered to send a team of US infectious disease experts to China to assist with its public health efforts and that more cooperation and transparency would help make the response more effective.

"Beyond that, all options for dealing with infectious disease spread have to be on the table, including travel restrictions," he said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday that China had agreed to it sending international experts "as soon as possible". It was not clear when the WHO delegation would head to China and what countries would participate in the mission.

The US is seeking on-the-ground access to study health data that might confirm if the virus can spread before people have symptoms such as a fever, and to help with China's disease containment measures, said Mr Azar and other US health officials during the news conference.

Despite its fast spread, Mr Azar said risks of the disease are unclear, as the US is still learning about its severity, incubation period and whether there is a real danger of it being transmitted by people without symptoms.

There was no evidence of person-to-person transmission in the US, he said, adding that it was not necessary for Americans to wear surgical masks in public places.

He did not say what specific travel restrictions are being considered. The US is expanding screenings of travellers from China and has centres monitoring their health at 20 airports, up from five.

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Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr Robert Redfield, said on Tuesday that "based on the evolving information from China" on the coronavirus, the CDC decided to increase the screening of travelers to 20 airports in the US.

The novel coronavirus has killed 106 people, spread across the world and rattled financial markets. The number of confirmed cases in China surged to 4,515 as of Monday, according to the Chinese government.

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