Coronavirus: US to reroute flights for screening if any passenger aboard has been to China in the last 14 days

Passengers will be routed through one of 11 airports in the US to undergo enhanced health screenings, according to the Department of Homeland Security

                            Coronavirus: US to reroute flights for screening if any passenger aboard has been to China in the last 14 days
Tourists from the Wuhan area being screened before they get off a plane (Chinatopix via AP)

As the US steps up its response against the novel coronavirus, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has warned passengers that their flights will be rerouted if officials discover mid-flight that someone onboard has been in China in the last 14 days.

"To protect the American people from exposure to the coronavirus, on Sunday, February 2, 2020, the (DHS) Acting Secretary Chad F. Wolf issued instructions supplementing a decision issued on January 31, 2020, and directed all flights from China and all passengers who have traveled to China within the last 14 days to be routed through one of eight US airports, effective Sunday, February 2nd, 2020, for flights departing after 5:00 PM Eastern,” says the notice issued by DHS.

The eight are: John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York; Chicago O’Hare International Airport; San Francisco International Airport; Seattle-Tacoma International Airport; Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu; Los Angeles International Airport in California; Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; and Washington-Dulles International Airport in Virginia.

Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and Detroit Metropolitan Airport will also be added to the list of airports authorized to receive such flights beginning at various times on February 3, 2020. Enhanced screening procedures and the capacity to quarantine passengers, if needed, have been established at these 11 airports. 

Currently, 11 cases of coronavirus have been identified in the US. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), for the general American public, who are unlikely to be exposed to this virus, the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV is considered low. However, say experts, more cases are likely to be identified in the coming days, including more cases in the US. It is also likely that person-to-person spread will continue to occur, including in the US, says CDC.

Currently, foreign nationals -- other than the immediate family of US citizens, permanent residents, and flight crew -- who have traveled in China within 14 days of their arrival, are being denied entry into the US.

In this photo released by Indonesian Foreign Ministry, Indonesian people who arrived from Wuhan, China, are sprayed antiseptic at Hang Nadim Airport in Batam, Indonesia.(Indonesian Foreign Ministry via AP)

Additionally, US citizens who have been in Hubei province within 14 days of their return will be subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine to ensure they are provided proper medical care and health screening. The DHS further says that US citizens who have been in other areas of mainland China within 14 days of their return will undergo “proactive entry health screening” and up to 14 days of self-quarantine with health monitoring. These measures will be taken to make sure they have not contracted the virus and do not pose a public health risk, say officials. 

The notice explains that if a traveler who spent time in China, but outside the Hubei province, is re-routed through one of the 11 airports and shows no symptoms following a health screening, they will be re-booked to their destination and asked to “self-quarantine” at their homes.

“While the overall risk to the American public remains low, funneling all flights with passengers who have recently been in China is the most important and prudent step we can take at this time to decrease the strain on public health officials screening incoming travelers. These steps will also expedite the processing of US citizens returning from China, and ensure resources are focused on the health and safety of the American people,” says Wolf in the notice.

He says, “We realize this could provide added stress and prolong travel times for some individuals, however public health and security experts agree these measures are necessary to contain the virus and protect the American people. To minimize disruptions, CBP (Customs and Border Protection) and air carriers are working to identify qualifying passengers before their scheduled flights. Once back in the US, it’s imperative that individuals honor self-quarantine directives to help protect the American public.”

DHS and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have coordinated with air carriers and the CDC to designate the 11 US airports where CDC experts will identify potentially ill persons.

“The American public can be assured that DHS and its component agencies are taking decisive action to analyze the threat, minimize risk, and slow the spread of the virus by working closely with CDC health professionals and interagency partners involved in this whole-of-government effort,” added Wolf. 

Disclaimer : This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.