At least 15 airlines worldwide have stopped service to China over coronavirus fears, while three flights a day continue to arrive at Boston Logan International Airport from Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong — despite the threat of the highly contagious illness spreading.
Public health and travel experts are urging government officials to take action now. But on Wednesday, federal, state and local officials declined to commit to travel bans, instead saying they are monitoring the situation, while advising private citizens to take their own precautions.
Massport spokeswoman Jennifer Mehigan said any decision to halt flights would come from the Federal Aviation Administration or the Chinese airlines that fly nonstop into Boston.
But an FAA spokeswoman had no comment, referring a Herald reporter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A CDC official on a conference call did not say whether the agency plans to restrict or suspend travel from China.
The CDC has not confirmed when they might start screening travelers for coronavirus, though it has said Logan is on a list of places where travelers will be evaluated. Wednesday afternoon at Logan, a “sick” person arriving from China on Hainan Airlines was evaluated for coronavirus but did not meet the CDC criteria for the disease and refused transport to the hospital, officials said.
There have been more than 7,700 confirmed cases of coronavirus in 16 countries, including the U.S. According to the World Health Organization, 170 people have died from coronavirus. WHO will reconvene again Thursday to decide if it’s a global emergency. United Airlines, American Airlines, Air Canada and British Airways are among at least 15 airlines that have stopped flying into China.
Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies said, “It seems prudent for everyone’s safety to suspend some travel, at least until we can be sure we have a robust screening process in place or the danger has subsided. The most effective way to prevent the spreading of this is through travel restrictions.”
She noted the feds have the authority to “stop the entry of people if there’s a potential threat to our country.”
“Anything we can do to slow down the transmission rates buys society time,” said Dan Richards, founder and CEO of Global Rescue, a travel risk and crisis response provider based in New Hampshire. He said traveling to China right now is “problematic so nobody should be going to China unless they have a very good reason.”
Restricting or prohibiting travel to China “makes sense,” Richards added.
Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes, chief of the division of infectious disease at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, raised the possibility that apparently healthy people could carry the disease across oceans and borders.
“There is the possibility, because we now know there is up to a two-week incubation period, that people might return from travel and be perfectly healthy and become ill several days later,” said Kuritzkes.
A state Department of Public Health spokeswoman said, “DPH continues to work closely with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor the outbreak.”
Gov. Charlie Baker said, “We’ve obviously been in regular contact with the CDC and the folks at our Department of Public Health and we will continue to be. As of this point in time, the threat level here remains low but the conversations and the back and forth and any new findings are being shared on a pretty regular basis between the feds and all of the various state Departments of Public Health.”
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh said in a statement, “We are taking every precaution to keep our City healthy and safe. The Boston Public Health Commission is advising key partners across the City, including Massport and universities.”
Mary Markos, Sean Philip Cotter and Lisa Kashinsky contributed to this report.