(CNSNews.com) – The Trump administration has expanded travel restrictions and cautions designed to help contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, barring from entry any foreign national who has been in Iran in the past fortnight, and advising Americans not to travel to the two worst-affected areas of the world outside of mainland China.
As those measures were announced, members of President Trump’s coronavirus taskforce underlined the importance of the China travel restrictions put in place at the end of January, ascribing to that early step the fact infections within the United States are as low as there are.
“I hearken back to the original decision that was made by the president of making sure that we knew the scenario that was going on in China. We prevented travel from China to the United States,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health.
“If we had not done that, we would have had many, many more cases right here that we would have to be dealing with.”
An American in his 50s in Washington state became the first to die inside the country from COVID-19. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention initially mistakenly identified the patient as a woman.)
The man who died was being treated in the same hospital as two patients from a long-term care facility, who have been tested positive for COVID-19. The Life Care Center in Kirkland said in a statement one was a health care worker and the other a resident.
Seven other residents are showing symptoms of respiratory illness but have not been confirmed as COVID-19 cases, said its executive director, Ellie Basham. The facility has suspended admissions and visits by family members or other outsiders.
The three cases in Washington state bring to 22 the cumulative total of confirmed cases in the U.S., according to the CDC.
That number excludes the 47 Americans who were repatriated from high-risk locations and already evidently carrying the virus – 44 from among the Diamond Princess cruise ship berthed in Japan, and three flown home from the outbreak epicenter, the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Vice President Mike Pence, who has been put in charge of the national response to the outbreak, announced the new travel restrictions and advisories during a White House briefing on Saturday:
--Any foreign national who has visited Iran within 14 days of arrival in the U.S. will not be allowed to enter.
--Americans are being advised not to travel to specific regions of Italy and South Korea badly affected by the outbreak. In addition, the U.S. aims to coordinate with counterparts in those two countries for medical screenings, prior to travel, of any individual planning to fly to the U.S.
As of Sunday, Iran, Italy and South Korea remain the countries hardest-hit by the coronavirus outbreak outside of mainland China, according to the World Health Organization (WHO):
--South Korea: 3,736 confirmed cases and 18 deaths
-- Italy: 1,128 confirmed cases and 29 deaths
-- Iran: 593 confirmed cases and 43 deaths
(The exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran, citing hospital and other sources, claims the actual death toll in Iran exceeds 650, including more than 300 in the Shi’ite holy city of Qom alone. The group accuses the regime of continuing “to cover up the extent of the disaster through concealment and misinformation, causing the rapid spread of the virus.”)
The decision to widen travel restrictions comes as the pattern of greater numbers of new confirmed COVID-19 cases outside China than inside continues to hold.
For five consecutive days, there have been more new confirmed cases outside than inside China. And for three days in a row the number outside has been more than twice that of the number inside China.
‘A basic containment strategy’
Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called the decision to reduce travel from and to badly-hit regions “a basic containment strategy,” and indicated that more such steps could be taken as the situation evolves.
“We want to lower the amount of travel to and from the most impacted areas,” he said. “That is the philosophy behind the moves that we have taken, the moves we’re announcing today, and any moves that we will consider in the future.”
The earlier curbs, which took effect on the evening of February 2, temporarily prevented entry into the U.S. of any foreign national who had visited China in the 14 days prior to arrival – excluding permanent residents and immediate family members of U.S. citizens.
In addition, any U.S. citizen who has been in the outbreak epicenter of Wuhan and Hubei province within 14 days of arrival in the U.S. was placed under mandatory quarantine for up to two weeks.
“The president took unprecedented action to suspend all travel into the United States from China,” Pence told the briefing. “It simply had never been done before by any previous administration. And it is among the reasons why the threat to Americans of coronavirus remains low, despite today’s tragic news from Washington state.”
Fauci said the new curbs aim “to try and keep our citizens from going to places that are active infection, and to prevent places where there are active infection to necessarily easily get here.”
Trump said that when the earlier decision to restrict travel was made, many people “thought we shouldn’t do that.”
“That’s why we’re at 22 [confirmed cases] instead of a much higher number,” he said. “It would have been a much higher number. That was a big decision. It was a hard decision because it had never been done before anyway.”
At the time the restrictions took effect, the number of coronavirus cases inside China was rising swiftly. In the first five days of February, the number of cases in China rose from 11,821 to 24,363, WHO figures show. By February 15 it had risen to 40,235 and by February 15 to 50,054. On Sunday it stands at 79,968.