The Chinese Communist Party is still refusing to allow American experts into the country to help study and respond to the new coronavirus outbreak, a top American health official said on Monday.
“We have folks ready to go to China as soon as that offer is finalized. I understand that there still are negotiations in process on that. And really we’re waiting. As soon as we are allowed to go we will be there,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a phone call.
A single expert who was already in China as part of the agency’s continuing work with the country is in the field.
“We do have an expert already in the field as part of the CDC’s continuing work with China,” Messonnier said. In terms of the offer to China to send more experts, she added, “We are still waiting for that invitation and I don’t have anything more to say on that.”
Health Secretary Alex Azar told reporters last week that the United States offered to send a team of health experts to China amid the coronavirus outbreak but China had rejected the offer.
“We do hope that the Chinese government will take us up” on the offer, Azar said. “CDC experts are standing by, ready to go to China.”
“More cooperation and transparency are the most important steps you can take,” he told Chinese officials at the press conference.
China has been praised by some international health officials for being transparent about the outbreak, in stark contrast to how the country dealt with the SARS epidemic, but others have criticized the country and its communist government for allegedly underreporting the number of illnesses and deaths and allowing few outside experts in to study what’s happening on the ground.
U.S. officials have expressed growing alarm at the possibility of the virus spreading in America and on Jan. 31 announced a crackdown on travelers trying to enter the United States. Azar announced a public health emergency and said the United States will bar foreign nationals who have been to mainland China in the past 14 days. U.S. citizens who have been to Hubei Province in the last 14 days will be subject to a mandatory self-quarantine when they arrive back to the United States.
If travelers test positive for the virus, they’ll be quarantined by health officials at places like military bases and hotels, Messonnier told reporters on Monday. Returning travelers are being screened at 11 airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, San Francisco International Airport in California, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington State, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Hawaii, Los Angeles International Airport in California, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Georgia, Dulles International Airport in Virginia, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Texas, and Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Michigan.
One hundred and 95 people remain quarantined at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California, after being evacuated from Wuhan last week. No other Americans are currently quarantined, health officials said.
China criticized the United States this week, claiming the “excessive” measures announced by American authorities “could only create and spread fear.”
Asked about the criticism during the call, Messonnier noted that other countries and China are taking aggressive actions to try to slow down the spread of the disease.
“This is an unprecedented situation and we’ve taken aggressive measures,” she said, referring to how the virus can spread between people and reports that the virus can spread from someone showing only mild symptoms or even showing no symptoms, a condition known as being asymptomatic.
“Our hearts go out to those individuals who are suffering through this,” she added. “I think that we at CDC have incredibly strong scientists who have a lot of technical experience in really similar diseases as well as these kinds of disease and our presence on the ground in China would be a help to the folks in China who are trying to unravel this thing.”
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Author: Zachary Stieber