US to funnel travelers from Ebola-hit region through five airports
Travelers to the United States from Ebola-stricken Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea must fly into one of five airports that have enhanced screening in place for the virus, the U.S. government said on Tuesday.
The restrictions on passengers whose trips originated in those three West African countries were announced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and were set to go into effect on Wednesday. The measures stop well short of the travel ban sought by some U.S. lawmakers in a bid to prevent further Ebola cases in the United States.
Affected travelers will have their temperatures checked for signs of a fever that may indicate Ebola infection, among other protocols, at New York’s John F. Kennedy, New Jersey’s Newark, Washington Dulles, Atlanta, and Chicago’s O’Hare international airports, officials said.
These airports account for 94 percent of passengers coming to the United States from the Ebola-hit countries. The restrictions apply to all travelers, including U.S. citizens and those who would have arrived by land or sea.
“We are working closely with the airlines to implement these restrictions with minimal travel disruption,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a news release. “If not already handled by the airlines, the few impacted travelers should contact the airlines for rebooking, as needed.”
The restrictions apply to about nine people per day arriving from those nations that do not already fly into the enhanced-screening airports, according to Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for Washington-based trade group Airlines for America, or A4A.
“A4A members are cooperating fully with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to reroute the six percent” who do not fly to the five airports, Medina said in an emailed statement.
The group’s members include Delta Air Lines
In Washington, some U.S. lawmakers welcomed the move while others said more needed to be done.
Democratic U.S. Senator Charles Schumer of New York called the move “a good and effective step toward tightening the net and further protecting our citizens.”
Republican Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, who heads the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, said President Barack Obama needs to go further and impose a travel ban. The Obama administration thus far as resisted such calls for a ban.
“President Obama has a real solution at his disposal under current law and can use it at any time to temporarily ban foreign nationals from entering the United States from Ebola-ravaged countries,” Goodlatte said.
The Ebola issue has moved to the forefront in the U.S. election campaign as Republicans ramp up criticism of the Obama administration’s response.
EBOLA CONCERN RISES IN U.S.
While the United States has experienced only three infections and one death from Ebola, worries about the virus have been rising. Ebola has killed more than 4,500 people, mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
In Texas, 60 people have been removed from watch lists after showing no Ebola symptoms in 21 days of monitoring, federal health officials said.
A Gallup poll released on Tuesday showed that Ebola has moved into the top 10 issues of concern to Americans but remained well behind five other issues: the economy, dissatisfaction with government, jobs, healthcare and immigration. The Gallup polling organization said the survey was conducted from Oct. 12-15.
Ebola was tied with the federal budget deficit, education, the battle against Islamic State militants and the decline of morality as a top concern of 5 percent of the public, Gallup said. The economy ranked No. 1 at 17 percent.
Concerns that Americans might fall victim to scams because of fear about Ebola prompted a warning on Tuesday from New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman about bogus Ebola preparedness kits and preventative medications.
“Scammers are shamefully exploiting this moment of heightened concern about public health to defraud good people,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
There are no U.S. government-approved vaccines, medications or dietary supplements to prevent or treat Ebola.
Such schemes aim to prey on Americans’ worries over the virus after the first patient diagnosed in the United States, Thomas Eric Duncan, died in Dallas on Oct. 8 and another infected patient, nurse Amber Vinson, flew from Texas to Ohio and back.
Vinson’s mother, Debra Berry, told ABC News on Tuesday that her daughter is weak but recovering.
“She’s doing OK, just trying to get stronger,” Berry told ABC’s “Good Morning America” program. She said Vinson’s family is “very confident” she was getting good care at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, where she was taken last week for treatment.
(Additional reporting by Michele Gershberg in New York and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)