Trump health officials defend coronavirus quarantine, travel restrictions

getty Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar

U.S. health officials on Friday defended the Trump administration’s quarantine and travel restrictions that were implemented in response to the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus.

“The travel restrictions that we put in place in consultation with the president were very measured and incremental,” Alex Azar, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), told reporters. “These were the uniform recommendations of the career public health officials here at HHS.”

Last week, the administration declared a public health emergency because of the virus, and imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine for any U.S. citizen who recently traveled to China’s Hubei province — the epicenter of the outbreak.

Trump also imposed a ban on foreign nationals entering the U.S. who traveled to China in the past 14 days.

The restrictions have come under fire from public health experts, as well as members of the international community. 

The top official from the World Health Organization (WHO) earlier this week said there was no need for measures that “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade” and might increase fear.

The Chinese government has also accused the U.S. of spreading fears and reacting inappropriately to the virus.

China has essentially locked down the entire Hubei province, a move that the WHO praised as helping to reduce the number of cases of the coronavirus outside the country.

But as the virus has spread, Chinese authorities have locked down an additional 30 million people across cities in the province of Zhejiang, hundreds of miles from the Hubei province, according to The Washington Post.  

Anthony Fauci, head of the infectious disease division at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said the U.S. restrictions are not a perfect solution, but the positives outweigh the negatives.

“[The] negative components people say is, you incite panic in a country, or you have difficulties with resources getting in and out,” Fauci said. “Thus far, there’s been no panic in the country … so the kinds of collateral damage that you’re concerned about have not occurred.”

Fauci added that health officials understand the unprecedented nature of imposing such restrictions.

“This is a temporary thing. We’re not talking about something that’s permanent, so we recognize the potential negatives of it, but this decision was not made lightly,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Azar said U.S. officials are also still waiting on China to accept their offer to send experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to help with the coronavirus outbreak.

“At this point, it’s really a decision for the Chinese,” Azar said. “We have made the request now for almost a month, saying we are ready, willing, and able” to support the Chinese government with their response to the coronavirus.

Azar said HHS provided the WHO with the names of 13 individuals from U.S. agencies such as the CDC, NIH and HHS’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. Those people are among the 25 members of an international WHO team. 

“We continue to expect fully that President Xi will accept that team that the WHO has put together,” Azar said.

Updated: 6:21 p.m.

Tags Coronavirus

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