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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 CottonBarrett fight puts focus on abortion in 2020 election COVID outbreak threatens GOP's Supreme Court plans This week: Coronavirus complicates Senate's Supreme Court fight 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 John TrumpPolice say man dangling off Trump Tower Chicago demanding to speak with Trump Fauci says he was 'absolutely not' surprised Trump got coronavirus after Rose Garden event Biden: Trump 'continues to lie to us' about coronavirus 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 PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoPompeo warns any arms sales to Iran will result in sanctions as embargo expires Trump turns his ire toward Cabinet members Azerbaijan accuses Armenia of missile strike that killed at least 13 MORE, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad WolfChad WolfHouse Democrats ask DHS to consider flu vaccinations for immigration detainees US agents in Guatemala detained Honduran migrants in unauthorized operation: Senate report Appeals court blocks further construction on Trump border wall 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.