Coronavirus Screening Begins for US-Bound Travelers From South Korea, Italy

By Patrick Goodenough | March 3, 2020 | 4:55am EST
Passengers arrive in Sao Paulo, Brazil on a flight from Italy on Monday.  (Photo by Nelson Almeida/AFP via Getty Images)
Passengers arrive in Sao Paulo, Brazil on a flight from Italy on Monday. (Photo by Nelson Almeida/AFP via Getty Images)

( – Officials in South Korea have begun health-screening all U.S.-bound airline passengers for the novel coronavirus, and Italy will begin doing so within hours, Vice President Mike Pence said on Monday evening.

Whether the requirements will be extended to travelers from other countries remains to be seen, but the situation was being closely monitored, he told reporters during a coronavirus taskforce briefing at the White House.

Pence said passengers booked on direct flights to the United States at all South Korean airports are being screened, with “multiple" temperature checks before boarding.

The process had begun in South Korea “three hours ago” (which would have made it around 8 AM on Tuesday morning local time) and the same situation would apply at all airports in Italy “within the next 12 hours or so,” he added.

“We’re working very closely to assist them in implementing that.”

South Korea (4,812 confirmed cases, 28 deaths as of early Tuesday), Italy (2,036 cases, 52 deaths), and Iran (1,501 cases, 66 deaths) are the three countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak outside of its country of origin, China.

(Figures are from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, whose data sources include the WHO, CDC, and equivalent bodies in China and Europe.)

U.S. restrictions on arrivals from China have been in place since the beginning of February, and the Trump administration announced at the weekend that any foreign national who has visited Iran within 14 days of arrival in the U.S. would be refused entry.

It has not taken the same step with regard to Italy and South Korea, both close allies of the United States. However, apart from the new screening requirements, the federal government is urging citizens not to travel to the worst-affected parts of the two countries.

“The American people should know that we are saying that they – you should not travel to certain sections of Italy or South Korea,” Pence said. “Those advisories may expand but we’ll allow the caseload in those countries to define that.”

The hardest-hit regions of the two countries are northern Italy, and South Korea’s Daegu and North Gyeongsang provinces. More than half of the cases in South Korea have been linked to the Shincheonji Church, a sect with more than 200,000 members.

Other countries where new cases have surged in recent days include Japan (274 cases, six deaths) and Germany, where the number of cases tripled in one day, to 159. No deaths have been reported in Germany. France has reported 191 cases and three deaths.

Pence noted that “the nature of the European Union is one doesn’t require a passport to move around. So our task force spoke today about new cases and there were some in several European countries.”

“We’re following that very closely and, again, we’ll listen to the experts, we’ll watch the cases and I know the president will make the decisions with regard to both travel advisories or restrictions on the basis of those facts.”

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused disruptions to air traffic worldwide for weeks, and now South Korea’s two main carriers have both canceled numerous services to the United States.

Asiana Airlines is suspending its Seoul-San Francisco service from March 1 until April 14, and Korean Air on Monday announced the cancelation of services between Seoul and Honolulu, San Francisco, Boston, New York, Chicago, Washington, and Dallas.

Delta is giving passengers to, from, and transiting Seoul and Italy the option of continuing with their booking, changing their flight, or canceling altogether.


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