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About 430,000 people have flown on direct flights from China to the United States since Chinese officials first disclosed the outbreak of what is now the novel coronavirus to world health officials on New Year’s Eve, according to a new report published Saturday.
Most of the travelers flew into airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Newark and Detroit in January. Thousands came directly from the city of Wuhan in the Chinese Hubei province, where the coronavirus originated, the New York Times reported.
The report did not account for travelers who did not fly directly from China and may have come into the U.S. on a connecting flight from the country.
The number of passengers flying directly into the U.S. from China was significantly reduced after President Trump issued a travel ban on Jan. 31 – the day after the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency.
Foreign nationals were barred from entering the U.S. if they had visited China within the past two weeks.
Even after the order went into effect on February 2, some 40,000 people – traveling on 279 flights – have arrived in the U.S. from China, according to the analysis from the New York Times based on data collected in both countries.
Those individuals were exempt from the restrictions because they were either American citizens, U.S. passport or green cardholders. Non-citizen relatives were also permitted to enter the U.S., an exemption made by the president to prevent the separation of families.
Some of those flights arrived within the past week from Beijing into major U.S. airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York.
In January, when Chinese officials were still underreporting the effect of the outbreak, Trump received push-back for issuing a travel ban, with several Democrats in Congress suggesting it could lead to discrimination. The U.S. restrictions came weeks before the WHO recommended similar measures barring travel.
Still, the Times report questioned whether Trump’s order came soon enough to have “kept China out.”
“I do think we were very early, but I also think that we were very smart, because we stopped China,” Trump said at a briefing last week. “That was probably the biggest decision we made so far.”
The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was identified on Jan. 20 in Washington State. But, experts from the New England Journal of Medicine suspect the virus arrived undetected even before then.
As many as 25 percent of those infected with the coronavirus may not show symptoms, Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NPR in Atlanta last week.
Many passengers arriving from China within the past two months said they experienced lax screening procedures at U.S. airports. Some travelers said they had their temperatures taken and filled out health forms, but were not intensely questioned and were never contacted again, the Times reported.
Others said they were told to self-quarantine for 14 days and received two reminder text messages but received no further follow-up from the CDC or local health officials.
More than 1.2 million people around the world have tested positive for coronavirus. As of Sunday, the U.S. has accounted for 320,000 of the cases - the most of any country.
More than 67,000 people have died from the virus, while more than 252,000 have recovered.