The White House is considering a ban on flights between the United States and China as the new coronavirus outbreak continues to spread, Trump administration officials said late Tuesday.
The administration has discussed the prospect of suspending flights to China, but has not made a decision, officials said, denying some media reports that it had.
A White House official, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said talks are ongoing.
“The White House did not call the airlines and hasn’t asked for a suspension of flights between the U.S. and China,” the official said.
So far, 106 people have died from the new coronavirus and the number of confirmed cases in China has ballooned to more than 4,500.
The epicenter of the outbreak is Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, but during their Tuesday press conference, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Department of Health and Human Services officials said there were 60 cases in 13 other countries outside of China, including five in the U.S.
The discussion of a possible ban on China flights comes on the heels of an announcement that the CDC and U.S. State Department have expanded their travel advisories to cover all of China.
The CDC issued a level 3 travel warning Monday, its highest level, recommending travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China. Previously only Wuhan was at level 3. The rest of China was rated level 2, which recommends travelers “practice enhanced precautions.”
Separately Monday, the State Department issued its own level 3 alert for China, urging U.S. citizens to “reconsider” travel to China. Last week, it issued a level 4 alert, its highest, for Wuhan. A level 4 means “Do not travel.”
What it means for United, Delta, American airlines
Three U.S. carriers have nonstop flights from the U.S. to China: United, Delta and American.
United Airlines announced Tuesday it would suspend 24 flights between the U.S. and Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai the first week of February. The airline operates roughly 12 flights per day from the U.S. to mainland China and Hong Kong. The planned reduction would mean three or four fewer flights per day.
Delta Air Lines currently operates six daily nonstop flights between the U.S. and Beijing and Shanghai.
American Airlines operates 10 flights daily to and from Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing.
All three airlines already have issued flight waivers for travelers who don’t want to travel to China destinations, allowing them to postpone or cancel plans without the usual penalty.
What is coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases, from pneumonia to Middle East respiratory syndrome, known as MERS, and severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
Common signs of infection include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause high fever, kidney failure and death.
Contributing: David Jackson, Kristen DelGuzzi, John Bacon, Dawn Gilbertson, Jayme Deerwester