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GOP senator calls for travel ban to stop coronavirus spread

GOP senator calls for travel ban to stop coronavirus spread
© Aaron Schwartz

Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonSenate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill Trump seeks to cement hold on GOP Sunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues MORE (R-Ark.) is calling for the Trump administration to implement a “targeted travel ban” to stop the spread of a coronavirus from China.

In a letter to members of President TrumpDonald TrumpSacha Baron Cohen calls out 'danger of lies, hate and conspiracies' in Golden Globes speech Sorkin uses Abbie Hoffman quote to condemn Capitol violence: Democracy is 'something you do' Ex-Trump aide Pierson planning run for Congress MORE’s Cabinet Tuesday, Cotton said it may be too late for China to contain the virus within its borders, and called for a ban on all commercial flights between the U.S. and China.

Cotton said U.S. citizens living in China should have the option to return to America, but only under “appropriate, elevated monitoring.”

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He said officials should develop criteria to allow “critical trade” to continue, like cargo flights and seaboard shipping, to minimize the impact on the U.S. economy. 

Cotton sent the letter to Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoFive takeaways from CPAC 2021 Pompeo: Release of Khashoggi report by Biden admin 'reckless' Trump wins CPAC straw poll with 55 percent MORE, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfSunday shows preview: 2024 hopefuls gather at CPAC; House passes coronavirus relief; vaccine effort continues Liberal watchdog group files ethics complaint over Boebert's reimbursements Left-leaning group to track which companies hire former top Trump aides MORE.

"Given the latest developments and the many unknowns about this virus, we ought to follow Benjamin Franklin's maxim: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Cotton wrote.

The State Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are warning Americans to avoid any nonessential travel to China, and the Chinese government has quarantined close to 50 million people in cities across the country.

The administration is also planning to increase screenings for the virus from five to 20 U.S. airports. 

At the same time, United Airlines said it was suspending some flights to mainland China beginning Feb. 1 and lasting through Feb. 8 because of a “significant decline in demand.” 

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No other airlines have announced similar decisions, but United operates about a dozen flights a day to Hong Kong and mainland China.

U.S. health officials have appeared reluctant to commit to any travel ban, and experts have expressed doubts about a ban's effectiveness at stopping the spread of disease. 

For example, the mayor of Wuhan, where the outbreak is believed to have started, acknowledged that more than 5 million people left the city despite the government lockdown. 

Earlier Tuesday, Azar said all options are on the table to protect Americans, including travel restrictions. However, he noted that diseases “are not terribly good at respecting borders.”

More than 4,500 people in China have been infected with the virus, and 106 have died. There are only five cases in the U.S., and officials are currently monitoring 73 possible cases in 26 states after a number of people they were previously monitoring tested negative for the virus.