New York: In the days immediately after China made the disclosure about the coronavirus outbreak, nearly 430,000 people arrived in the US on direct flights from the country, including thousands who travelled directly from Wuhan, the epicentre 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 had 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 an aviation data company based in China.
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. The report also added that about 60 per cent of travellers on direct flights from China in February were not American citizens. “Most of the flights were operated by Chinese airlines after American carriers halted theirs.”