US Boosts Alert Levels for Travel to China as Viral Pneumonia Stirs Global Panic

U.S. health authorities have upgraded a travel warning for China on Jan. 21 after they confirmed the first case of a viral pneumonia that first broke out in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

The patient is a man in his 30s living in Washington state’s Snohomish County, north of Seattle. He returned to Seattle in mid-January after visiting Wuhan, where the virus first began to spread in December 2019. Chinese authorities said the virus has claimed six lives to date.

The man visited the doctor on Jan. 19 and is currently “very healthy” but being kept in isolation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

On Jan. 21, the agency upgraded its precaution levels for traveling to China from level one to level two on a three-tier scale, warning travelers to exercise “enhanced precautions.” The third level would caution people to “avoid nonessential travel.”

The CDC didn’t provide details on how easily the disease can spread from one person to another, but noted they are tracking down anyone who had close contact with the patient since his return.

Heightened Concerns
The CDC also said on Jan. 21 that they are going to implement screening measures at two more airports—Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the Chicago O’Hare International Airport—for passengers directly flying from Wuhan. The agency also has set up an emergency operation center to coordinate the shipment of biological samples from suspected patients for lab testing, to ensure that results can come out by the following day.

Such screening measures were first implemented at three major international airports—New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, and San Francisco International Airport—on Jan. 17. These airports see the largest volume of passengers from Wuhan; a total of 1,200 passengers have gone through the screenings so far. Authorities haven’t yet found anyone exhibiting symptoms in those airports.

The illness is caused by a new kind of coronavirus, a type of pathogen that causes diseases ranging from the common cold to SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome.

CDC officials said they are working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of Transportation to redirect passengers flying from Wuhan to the five airports that are currently screening for the disease.

Nancy Messonnier, director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said the agency is taking a “very aggressive public health response strategy.”

She added that the agency is currently in “active conversations” about vaccines and diagnostics for the Wuhan virus.

Global Alarm
As of Jan. 21 in Wuhan, the number of viral pneumonia patients in China had reached 319, with 270 from the province of Hubei, where Wuhan is the capital.

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