The White House is considering a flight ban that would prevent anyone from flying from the United States to China as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread.
According to officials who spoke with USA Today, the ban would prohibit anyone flying from anywhere in the U.S. to mainland China, but it wouldn’t ban people traveling through other countries first.
Currently, the State Department and Centers for Disease Control have issued a Level 3 alert for travel to China, meaning that people should “reconsider” any non-essential travel to China, though they aren’t banned from flying there at this point. The State Department has, however, issued a “do not travel” Level 4 alert for the city of Wuhan.
“The White House did not call the airlines and hasn’t asked for a suspension of flights between the U.S. and China,” an anonymous official revealed.
So far, 6,000 people have been infected with the virus and 132 people have been confirmed to have died. The outbreak appears to have started in Wuhan, a city with 11 million people in the west of mainland China. So far, the virus has spread to 13 other countries, including the U.S., where five cases have been identified. The disease has also spread to Thailand, Australia, Singapore, Japan, France, Canada, Cambodia, and Germany.
United Airlines has suspended flights between the U.S. and Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai. Delta and American Airlines continue to fly to the areas, though travelers can choose to cancel or change their flights to China without penalty.
Outside of the U.S., British Airways has suspended flights to and from China, and Lion Air and Seoul Air have followed suit.
The coronavirus outbreak has raised concerns because of its high rate of transfer, and 200 Americans were evacuated from Wuhan as part of an effort to prevent the spread of the disease to U.S. citizens. As The New York Times reports, diplomats and businesspeople were flown from Wuhan to Anchorage and continued to Los Angeles. Passengers were repeatedly screened for signs of disease along the way.
Alaska’s governor, Mike Dunleavy, spoke about the rigorous screening process.
“The pre-screening in China and the rescreening here in Anchorage were critical steps for assuring the safety of the passengers onboard the aircraft and for preventing further importation of the novel coronavirus domestically,” he said.
Exerts say that the number of cases that have spread rapidly outside of China are worthy of concern.
“These reports are concerning, if they stand up to scrutiny, which they certainly sound credible,” said Dr. Arthur Reingold.