Travel From UK, Ireland Banned; Flights Limited To 13 Airports

By Suzanne Monyak
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Law360 (March 13, 2020, 8:10 PM EDT) -- The U.S. will ban travel from the United Kingdom and Ireland, Vice President Mike Pence said Saturday, while certain incoming European flights will be limited to 13 airports in an effort to combat the spread of the new coronavirus.

Beginning Monday at 11:59 p.m., travelers from the U.K. and Ireland won't be permitted entry into the U.S. in an expansion of existing travel restrictions against 26 countries in Europe, known as the Schengen free travel zone, as well as Iran and China.

Health experts had "made a unanimous recommendation to the president that we suspend all travel from the U.K. and Ireland," Pence said at a press conference.

Americans and green card holders, and their relatives, will be exempted from the travel ban, but will be funneled through certain U.S. airports for health screenings if they have visited one of the restricted countries in the last 14 days, a senior official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security said.

People who live and work in the U.S. on nonimmigrant visas, however, will be prevented from returning if they visit China, Iran, the U.K, Ireland or the Schengen zone, though they may be able to travel instead to another country that's not included in the restrictions for 14 days, and then return to the U.S.

Those who can return to the U.S. from an affected country will be funneled through one of 13 airports where more health resources are concentrated, allowing passengers to be screened for signs of the virus, according to DHS.

The senior DHS official said that after clearing Customs, travelers will undergo a secondary health screening conducted by contract employees with medical training, where they will be asked about their medical history, current condition, and contact information to be passed along to local authorities at their ultimate destination.

Those who clear the screening will be sent to their final destination, if it's not one of the designated airports, with instructions to self-quarantine at home for two weeks.

If a traveler shows symptoms or any other "red flag," that passenger would be referred to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention personnel onsite at the airport for a "deeper medical screen." CDC could then quarantine individuals at the airport if they show signs they have coronavirus, the senior DHS official said.

According to the official, only 17 people were quarantined at airports during the six weeks that these screenings were in effect for flights from China and later Iran, while more than 30,000 were sent home to self-isolate.

DHS had announced the 13 designated airports on Friday, hours before the Trump administration's new travel ban against Schengen was set to take effect that night. Those designated airports have implemented "enhanced public health services and protocols," acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf wrote in a notice, which is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on Monday.

"While the overall risk of serious infection from the coronavirus to the general public remains low at this time, the Trump administration is taking these aggressive measures to keep the risk low," Wolf said in a Friday statement.

On the East Coast, flights departing from the Schengen region after midnight may arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Washington-Dulles International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Boston Logan International Airport or Miami International Airport.

Eligible West Coast airports include San Francisco International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport.

Flights may also land at Chicago O'Hare International Airport, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Detroit Metropolitan Airport and Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu.

These restrictions do not apply to flight crew or to flights carrying only cargo, the notice says.

Wolf said that passengers subject to the airport restrictions will be rerouted through one of the 13 airports "at no cost to them."

"I understand this new process will be disruptive to some travelers, however this action is needed to protect the general public from further exposure and spread of the coronavirus," Wolf said.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., who chairs the House Homeland Security committee, has questioned the president's rationale for the European travel ban. He faulted Trump for focusing on measures that are "targeted at foreign nationals" rather than addressing the shortage of coronavirus tests in the U.S., and for leaving out key details in his initial announcement of the Schengen zone travel ban, including that Americans and permanent residents weren't included.

"Such poor communication only increases the confusion and anxiety that Americans are already experiencing," he wrote in a Thursday letter to administration officials. "Rather than calming the public, the president's address further roiled global markets and led to large crowds converging at European airports — terrible results during a global pandemic."

The restrictions are part of the Trump administration's efforts to clamp down on the virus as it spreads to at least 46 states and Washington, D.C., according to the CDC.

Trump declared a national emergency on Friday to free up more than $50 billion for states and territories to fight the outbreak. The House also passed emergency legislation early Saturday morning to provide support to American families impacted by the novel coronavirus, including a new tax credit for employers who provide emergency paid sick leave for their workers.

--Additional reporting by Stephen Cooper.

Update: This story has been updated with additional details about the health screenings and expanded travel ban.

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