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Travel Ban Won’t Help Contain Coronavirus, House Panel Told (1)

Feb. 5, 2020, 8:57 PMUpdated: Feb. 5, 2020, 9:23 PM

The Trump administration’s travel ban isn’t the answer to combating the spreading coronavirus outbreak, the former U.S. Ebola response coordinator told a House panel.

“We don’t have a travel ban. We have a travel band-aid right now,” Ron Klain, who led the Obama administration’s Ebola response effort, told the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and Nonproliferation on Wednesday at the first congressional hearing since the outbreak occurred in late December.

President Donald Trump signed an order Jan. 31 temporarily barring entry to foreign nationals who have visited China and pose a risk of spreading the illness, unless they’re immediate relatives of U.S. citizens or permanent residents. But that policy doesn’t stop U.S. citizens from traveling in and out China.

The ban has 11 exemptions and is based on people’s passports, not where they’ve traveled, Klain said. The focus should be on monitoring people who have visited the Hubei province in the past 14 days, he said.

The travel restrictions are unlikely to keep the virus out of the U.S. because it’s spreading too quickly and too silently to know when someone in another country might be carrying it, Jennifer Nuzzo, an associate professor and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said at the hearing.

Studies show the virus can live in a patient for 14 days before symptoms arise. “By singling out China for a travel ban, we are effectively penalizing it to report cases,” she said.

Jennifer Bouey, a senior policy researcher and Tang Chair in China policy studies at the RAND Corp., expressed similar concerns. She added that a quarantine will only slow transmission, not stop it.

The White House declined to send officials to testify, Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.), who is chairman of the subcommittee, said at the start of the hearing. The administration didn’t provide a reason, but health, security, and senior White House officials held a congressional briefing earlier that day, Bera said in an interview after the hearing. Because it was a closed-door meeting, statements from officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and others aren’t public.

“Many people in the public are very interested in what’s happening, and I’m glad that we’re able to do this hearing today,” Bera said. “But I would urge the administration to work with Congress on this. We’re not being combative here. We’re not being partisan. We want to make sure that the administration and CDC, Health and Human Services, State Department have the resources that are necessary to help address the challenge here in the United States but also to provide resources and support in China and across the world.”

(Updated to include interview with Rep. Ami Bera in the final two paragraphs.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Jeannie Baumann in Washington at jbaumann@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Fawn Johnson at fjohnson@bloomberglaw.com; Alexis Kramer at akramer@bloomberglaw.com

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