Tens of thousands of travelers from China arrived in US as administration debated restrictions: report

Tens of thousands of travelers from China arrived in the U.S. as the Trump administration debated possible travel restrictions, Reuters reported

The decision to limit travel from China that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump signs bill averting shutdown after brief funding lapse Privacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus MORE announced Jan. 31 reportedly had been debated for a month before that. In the meantime, 14,000 people would arrive in the U.S. every day from China, according to numbers cited by the administration, Reuters reported. 

The debates involved National Security Council (NSC), the State Department and other federal agencies, two government officials familiar with the deliberations said. The disputes ranged from how to screen travelers coming from China to the economic impact of a potential restriction. 

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National Economic Council director Larry KudlowLarry KudlowMORE and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinAmerican Airlines to furlough 19,000 workers On The Money: 'One more serious try' on COVID relief yields progress but no deal | Trump tax bombshell shines light on IRS enforcement | Senate passes bill to avert shutdown hours before deadline 'One more serious try' on COVID-19 relief yields progress but no deal MORE argued against the restrictions fearing an economic fallout, two former NSC officials and one of the officials involved told Reuters. 

Matthew Pottinger, a deputy national security adviser and a China expert, strongly disagreed and pushed for strict restrictions as he questioned the accuracy of China’s case reporting, according to Reuters.

Once the restrictions were proposed, a government official told Reuters it took at least a week for the president to adopt them. An official also said the discussions delayed screenings by at least a week. 

It is not known when the president was made aware of the NSC’s proposal, Reuters noted. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declined to comment to Reuters on the debate but said it was involved in the decision-making process as part of the administration’s coronavirus task force. 

A Treasury Department spokesperson told the news outlet Mnuchin “never objected to the decision to restrict flights from China.”

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White House spokesman, Judd Deere, defended Kudlow to Reuters, saying “Any suggestion that Larry Kudlow objected to restricting flights from China to contain COVID-19 and protect the health of the American people is completely false. Larry fully supported the President’s bold decision.”

A statement from NSC spokesman John Ullyot said the conversations were “robust” and “professional.”

The NSC was first informed of the outbreak on Dec. 31, when Chinese officials emailed saying they had cases of pneumonia that could not be traced to the seasonal flu. Ullyot disputes this, saying the NSC found out on Jan. 3, but the CDC said its agency learned of the coronavirus in late December. 

Trump has cited the ban on non-U.S. citizens, who are not the immediate family of citizens or permanent residents traveling from China, as a success in blocking the virus. Several other travel bans have since been implemented.

But during the debates, one case of an individual who had visited Wuhan slipped through the screening process and became the first confirmed case in the country. Now, the U.S. has counted more than 321,700 cases and at least 9,180 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.