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NYT report: Over 4L flew from China to US in early days of Covid outbreak

Published : Apr 5, 2020, 11:37 am IST
Updated : Apr 5, 2020, 11:37 am IST

It added that testing at the airports and follow-ups with travellers coming from China was not stringent enough.

A representation of the structure of Covid-19.
 A representation of the structure of Covid-19.

New York: In the days after China made the disclosure about its coronavirus outbreak, nearly 430,000 people arrived in the US on direct flights from the country, including thousands who travelled directly from Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic, a report in The New York Times said.Over 1,300 direct flights from China to 17 US cities brought back hundreds of thousands of people before President Donald Trump imposed travel restrictions.

"Since Chinese officials disclosed the outbreak of a mysterious pneumonia-like illness to international health officials on New Year's eve, at least 430,000 people have arrived in the United States on direct flights from China, including nearly 40,000 in the two months after President Trump imposed restrictions on such travel, according to an analysis of data collected in both countries, the report said.

It added that testing at the airports and follow-ups with travellers coming from China was not stringent enough.

During the first half of January, when Chinese officials were underplaying the severity of the outbreak, no travellers from China were screened for potential exposure to the virus.

Health screening began in mid-January, but only for a number of travellers who had been in Wuhan and only at the airports in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, it said.

By that time, about 4,000 people had already entered the US directly from Wuhan, the report quoted VariFlight, an aviation data company based in China.

The bulk of the 430,000 passengers, who were of multiple nationalities, arrived in January at airports spread across the length and breadth of the US-Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Newark and Detroit.    

Thousands of them flew directly from Wuhan, the center of the coronavirus outbreak, as American public health officials were only beginning to assess the risks to the US, the report said.

According to estimates by the Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 1.2 million coronavirus cases across the world, the highest being in the US (311,544) as of April 4. More than 64,000 people have died globally with 8,400 in the US.

Even as severe restrictions on travel and movement of people were eventually put in place, flights continued this past week, with passengers travelling from Beijing to Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York, under rules that exempt Americans and some others from the clampdown that took effect on February 2.

In all, 279 flights from China have arrived in the US since then, and screening procedures have been uneven, the report said.

While President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that his travel measures impeded the virus' spread in the US and we're the ones that kept China out of here, the NYT report said analysis of the flight and other data shows the travel measures, however effective, may have come too late to have kept China out.

Given that health officials now believe that as many as 25 per cent of people infected with the virus may never show symptoms, infectious-disease experts suspect that the virus had been spreading undetected for weeks after the first American case was confirmed in Washington State on January 20.
In fact, no one knows when the virus first arrived in the US, it said.

In January, before the broad screening was in place, there were over 1,300 direct passenger flights from China to the United States, according to VariFlight and two American firms, MyRadar and FlightAware.

About 381,000 travellers flew directly from China to the United States that month, about a quarter of whom were American, according to data from the Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration.

Several passengers arrived from China after transiting through other countries. While actual passenger counts for indirect fliers were not available, Sofia Boza-Holman, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security, said they represented about a quarter of travellers from China.

The report also added that about 60 per cent of travellers on direct flights from China in February were not American citizens, according to the most recently available government data. Most of the flights were operated by Chinese airlines after American carriers halted theirs

Tags: the united states, coronavirus (covid-19), china