(ATLANTA) — Top U.S. health officials pushed back on the notion that its new travel ban against Chinese nationals and withdrawal of embassy staff was spreading fear about coronavirus at a Monday news conference.
“This is an aggressive action by the United States, but our goal is to slow this thing down,” said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.
Messonnier’s response came hours after Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying called the United States’ actions “excessive” and said that such measures “could only create and spread fear.”
“This is an unprecedented situation,” Messonnier said of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
She cited the outbreak’s rapid expansion, lack of population immunity to the new virus, person-to-person and community transmission in China, and concerning data about possible asymptomatic disease transmission as factors that went into health officials’ decision-making process.
“All of those are worrisome data points,” Messonnier added.
U.S. coronavirus patients’ illnesses range from mild to severe
The U.S. currently has 11 patients who have tested positive for the new coronavirus and 167 patients who have tested negative. Eighty-two tests are still pending, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of those cases, nine are travel-related and two involved human-to-human transmission between close contacts — in each instance, the transmission was between a husband and wife.
According to Messonnier, the U.S. coronavirus cases have been along a spectrum of severity. Some of the cases have been mild. Other patients have had moments when they were “extremely ill” and required oxygen to breath. Data out of China suggests that people who are older, or who have underlying health problems, are at higher risk for severe forms of coronavirus.
No deaths have been reported in the United States.
The coronavirus outbreak has now infected nearly 17,500 people globally and has killed at least 361 of them, almost all in China.
Beyond China, at least 169 cases have been confirmed in 25 countries.
The vast majority of cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported in mainland China, with the epicenter still in Wuhan, a city of 11 million and the capital of central Hubei province, where the first cases were detected back in December. A total of 17,205 people have been infected with the disease and 361 have since died, according to the National Health Commission of the People’s Republic of China.
In the first case of death outside China, a man in the Philippines died after contracting the coronavirus from his friend while they were traveling together in Wuhan, China, according to the Philippines Department of Health.
Hong Kong expands border closures
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Monday announced additional border closures, severing all but three links between the semi-autonomous Chinese city and mainland China. The Hong Kong International Airp[ort, the Shenzhen Bay border and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge remain open.
The move came as thousands of public hospital workers went on strike Monday morning, demanding the Hong Kong government shutter all borders with mainland China as the country struggles to contain the outbreak. At least 15 people in the city have been infected with the novel coronavirus, according to the Hong Kong Department of Health.
U.S. declares emergency and travel ban
The U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar has declared a public health emergency and a temporary travel ban.
Over the weekend, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that flights entering the country from China will be rerouted — at no additional cost to the passenger — to seven airports designated for screenings.
The new coronovirus causes symptoms similar to pneumonia that can range from mild, such as a slight cough, to more severe, including fever and difficulty breathing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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