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US urged to lift ban on travel aimed at keeping virus at bay

By LIU XUAN | China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-10 09:48

A child greets a ground staff member after getting off a charter plane at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Wednesday. Air China and China Eastern Airlines each sent flights to pick up 370 Hubei residents who had been stranded in Singapore and Japan. WEI LAI/FOR CHINA DAILY

The United States should cease discriminatory and unfriendly gestures toward people from Wuhan and other places of China and work with the country to fight against the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, experts told US lawmakers during a hearing.

"We need to be on the watch for discrimination against people in our country of Chinese origin and ancestry, and speak out strongly against any such fear-driven racism," Ron Klain, former White House Ebola response coordinator, testified before the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee in Washington.

The House of Representatives Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation held an open hearing to assess the outbreak, response and regional implications of the novel coronavirus.

Klain emphasized that the coronavirus could strike any human no matter their race.

"Chinese-Americans or Chinese people in America are no more likely to get the disease, carry the disease or transmit the disease than any other group of people," he said, adding that such discrimination "not only is wrong, but also makes it harder to combat the disease".

Jennifer Nuzzo, a scholar at the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins University, said a US travel ban and restrictions are "not the right approach" to control the spread of the coronavirus and may make US citizens less safe.

The US has implemented stringent travel restrictions, such as temporarily denying entry to foreign nationals who have visited China in the 14 days before they arrive in the US, in its efforts to stop the virus from spreading in the country.

However, Nuzzo said she did not believe the policy could keep the virus out because it is spreading "too quickly and too quietly" to possibly know where all cases are. The entry ban should be lifted, she said.

"Just because we are only looking for cases among people with a connection to China doesn't mean that those are the only individuals who are infected. As global case counts continue to grow and as more and more countries report cases, it will raise the question as to whether we should continue to focus on travel to Wuhan or broader China as criteria for testing."

A more serious concern is that the travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines "are diverting resources away from fighting the virus", she said.

"By singling out China from travel bans, we are, effectively, penalizing it for openly reporting and sharing data about the epidemic. … This could diminish countries' willingness to be transparent about outbreaks and allow diseases to spread before outbreaks are uncovered, which would make everyone less safe."

Nuzzo suggested the US should maintain a productive and collaborative relationship with China and help the country better respond to the spread of the disease.

Jennifer Bouey, senior policy researcher at the Rand Corporation, said the US should work closely with China in combating the virus, and perhaps others in the future.

US public health and health care professionals should "reach out to China and provide humanitarian and technical aid", and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should work with its Chinese counterparts to map out potential collaboration to help other developing countries in distress, Bouey said.

She said she hoped the US government can build a realistic and consistent policy on US-China collaboration on global health and seek consensus with China on what data to share and what rules to follow.

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