WASHINGTON – The Donald Trump administration declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a public health emergency in the United States on Friday, downplaying the threat of the virus even as officials called for self-quarantines of Americans who have recently been to certain parts of China.
“The risk of infection for Americans remains low,” said Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services and chairman of the coronavirus task force set up by Trump. “We are working to keep the risk low.”
During a briefing at the White House, Azar and other officials repeatedly said that the risk to Americans is low.
U.S. citizens from parts of China will undergo entry health screenings and will be monitored during a 14-day self-quarantine, officials said. Azar also announced a suspension of entry into the United States of foreign nationals who pose a risk for the transmission of the virus.
The new rules apply to Americans coming in from China’s Hubei province and will take affect at 5 p.m. EST Sunday, Azar and other officials said.
The government has not declared any outright travel bans in association with the virus.
Three U.S. airlines – Delta, American and United – have announced they will temporarily cancel all of their flights to and from mainland China out of concern for the coronavirus outbreak.
As of Friday, the outbreak had infected nearly 10,000 people, most of them in China, and killed more than 200 people, all in China.
The White House made its announcement a day after the U.S. State Department recommended that Americans not travel to China. That change followed the World Health Organization’s declaration of a global health emergency over coronavirus.