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Coronavirus: US says ‘do not travel’ to Wuhan, China; airlines offer travel waivers

Hubu Alley, Wuchang, Wuhan, Hubei, China (Ping Lin, Wikimedia Commons/Released)
January 24, 2020

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department issued its most severe travel advisory – Level 4: do not travel – for the central Chinese province of Hubei, home to Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

Although the country as a whole maintains its Level 2 advisory (exercise increased caution), the State Department issued a special warning for the Wuhan region and noted that it had evacuated all non-essential personnel from China, limiting its ability to aid U.S. citizens in Hubei province.

“There is an ongoing outbreak of pneumonia first identified in Wuhan, China, caused by a novel (new) coronavirus. In an effort to contain the novel coronavirus, the Chinese authorities have suspended air and rail travel in the area around Wuhan,” the advisory reads.

The advisory continued, “Chinese authorities have imposed strict travel restrictions in the area around Wuhan. Travelers should be aware that the Chinese government could prevent them from entering or exiting parts of Hubei province. Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice.”

Wuhan is located about 715 miles (1,152 kilometers) south of Beijing. Getting there involves a nearly 5-hour flight or bullet-train ride.

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Chinese officials have shut down train, subway, bus and ferry service in Wuhan as well as the neighboring cities of Huanggang and Ezhou. The measures have effectively quarantined 20 million people.

The State Department advisory also warned any American who has been to Wuhan in the last two weeks and has displayed symptoms of the virus, including fever, cough or respiratory problems to call ahead to their doctor or local emergency room to apprise them of their situation and then seek medical attention immediately.

U.S. airlines issue travel waivers

American, Delta and United have all issued travel waivers for travel to Wuhan. None of the carriers fly nonstop to Wuhan, but they offer connecting service, with their Asian carrier partners operating the intra-China flights.

The travel dates covered by the waivers vary by airline.

American’s waiver covers travelers with tickets to or from Wuhan through March 31.Travelers can request a refund even if they are holding nonrefundable tickets.

United’s waiver covers travelers with tickets through March 29 and allows refunds.

Delta’s waiver is less defined, with the airline saying it’s offering “flexibility to any customer with a future trip which includes Wuhan in their itinerary.”

American, Delta and United each offer nonstop flights to Shanghai and Beijing from the U.S.

American flight attendants union: More needs to be done

Meanwhile, the union representing American Airlines flight attendants is calling on that airline – and other U.S. carriers – to step up their precautions against coronavirus, despite Thursday’s decision by the World Health Organization not to declare the outbreak a global health crisis or ask the airline industry to expand their efforts against the virus, which the WHO has officially named 2019-nCoV.

In a Thursday press release, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants asked American Airlines to “institute immediate emergency measures, including providing crew members the latest information regarding the 2019-nCoV outbreak, identifying the signs and symptoms of illness in oneself and others, and practical procedures to manage potentially ill persons.”

Union president Lori Bassani said, “The health of our crew members and passengers is a top priority for us and we refuse to compromise their health or safety in any way. I am urging American Airlines and all airlines to do everything humanly possible to contain the outbreak and minimize any chance of exposure. We will continue to speak out to ensure airlines are erring on the side of caution and putting our members’ health first in these dangerous times.”

American’s president, Robert Isom, said on the airline’s earnings conference call Thursday that the airline is working closely with the CDC, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and public health officials to make sure it is following “best practices” when it comes to public health issues.”

“We’re doing that with an intent to make sure that we take care of our customers and team members,” he said.

On Thursday, American began providing additional hand-sanitizing wipes to flight attendants working all American flights between the U.S. and Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. The airline will monitor the supply levels and replenish them as needed, American spokesman Curtis Blessing said.

Currently, inbound planes from Wuhan are being routed to airports in five U.S. cities that are often the port of entry for flights from Asia: Los Angeles (LAX), New York (JFK), Chicago (ORD), San Francisco (SFO) and Atlanta (ATL), where passengers are checked for symptoms

There have been incidents this week at Los Angeles International, Chicago O’Hare and Boston’s Logan Airport but no new confirmed cases of coronavirus, which The Who is now referring to as novel coronavirus. The only confirmed U.S. case is a Washington State resident who returned from Wuhan on Jan. 15. The Centers for Disease Control is tracking at least 16 individuals who have been in close contact with him.

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© 2020 USA Today