On February 2, about two weeks after the first U.S. case of coronavirus was detected in Washington state, Donald Trump ordered restrictions on travel from China, where the viral pandemic originated. Trump has frequently boasted that his action was an important step against the pandemic, claiming that "I saved thousands of lives!"
But new analysis of flight data shows that Trump's travel ban was far from complete, allowing nearly 40,000 people to enter the U.S. on direct flights from China since the ban was imposed. Thousands of passengers have traveled straight from Wuhan, the city at the epicenter of the Chinese outbreak, according to a report published on Saturday by The New York Times.
The NYT report also reveals that health screening procedures for those arriving passengers, who came in on 279 separate flights since Trump's travel restrictions took effect, have been uneven and spotty.
Trump has repeatedly defended himself against criticism of his coronavirus response by pointing to his China travel ban, claiming that "we're the ones that kept China out of here," and "I made a decision to close off to China that was weeks early." He also said that had he not made the decision, "thousands and thousands of people would have died," as quoted by Associated Press.
His 2020 presidential campaign has touted the China travel restrictions as well, with national press secretary Kayleigh McEnany claiming on February 25 that due to Trump's action, "we will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here," as seen in the video below.Trump also said as recently as Tuesday that "we were very smart, because we stopped China," calling the travel restrictions "probably the biggest decision" he has made to date.
According to the New York Times reporting, flights have arrived from China to U.S. airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Newark, and Detroit as recently as the past week. Trump's travel restrictions contained 12 exceptions, for American citizens and some non-citizens, that have allowed the flights from China to continue arriving here.
While Trump claims that he imposed the China travel restrictions "weeks early," according to the NYT analysis "more than 1,300 flights from China arrived at 17 U.S. airports" in January, prior to when Trump announced that he would impose the "ban." Those flights carried approximately 381,000 passengers, NYT reported.
Though China had confirmed 381 cases of the disease by January 1, the U.S. did not begin health screenings at airports for passengers flying in from China until midway into that month. By the time the screenings began, approximately 4,000 passengers had entered the U.S. directly from Wuhan, according to the report.