Feb 7 (Reuters - Only a handful of commercial airline passengers have been quarantined in the United States under new Trump administration travel restrictions aimed at slowing spread of the coronavirus, according to health authorities in five states that responded to a Reuters survey.
The findings indicate the extent to which flight cancellations and the new regulations have effectively shut down U.S.-China travel since the first coronavirus case was diagnosed in the United States on Jan. 20.
Health departments in four of the 10 U.S. states where airports are screening passengers for coronavirus exposure said they had not taken any people into quarantine since the new travel rules took effect on Feb. 2. Only New York State reported having four people under quarantine due to their travel history.
The mandatory quarantines are among the first in the United States in over 50 years and apply to U.S. citizens who have traveled to China’s Hubei Province, the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic, in the last two weeks.
Foreign nationals who have visited China within 14 days - the outer incubation period of the virus - are barred from entering the United States.
The restrictions have had a chilling effect on travel, with the number of flights from mainland China to the United States operated by Chinese carriers falling by half in the past week, according to VariFlight, a civil aviation consultancy.
U.S. airlines Delta, United and American Airlines have suspended all flights between the United States and China.
The United States is among at least 17 countries that have imposed travel restrictions on people coming from China.
Over 17,000 passengers have so far been screened at U.S. airports, with 4,000 on Friday alone, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told a news conference.
With most China-U.S. flights canceled, many of the U.S. screening airports are no longer receiving direct arrivals from China. San Francisco, one of the 11 U.S. airports screening for coronavirus, has only one remaining flight from mainland China and that will be suspended on Sunday, the city’s airport said.
The airports are monitoring over 1,000 daily flights to the United States operated by over 400 carriers from 288 airports worldwide, U.S. Department of Transportation official Joel Szabat told reporters.
He estimated over 200,000 Americans are still in China or have recently left the country.
All flights coming from China or believed to be carrying passengers who may have been in China are being funneled through the 11 screening airports, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
“These are steps meant to slow down the spread. It’s not meant to hermetically seal the United States from the virus,” Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar told a press conference on Friday.
Health departments in Michigan, Texas, Virginia and Washington said they had no passengers under quarantine. Georgia said it was prepared to quarantine passengers, without providing further comment.
California and Illinois referred questions to the CDC. Officials in Hawaii and New Jersey did not immediately respond to requests for comment. (Reporting By Andrew Hay in New Mexico, additional reporting by Tracy Rucinski in Chicago and Jamie Freed in Sydney; editing by Bill Tarrant and Cynthia Osterman)