The recent outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, which was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has caused a great deal of stress and anxiety for travelers and government agencies alike. As of February 10, over 40,000 people worldwide have suffered from the virus. 900 people have died.
Jean Danhong Chen, an experienced immigration attorney located in San Jose, California explains the circumstances surrounding the novel coronavirus and its implications for international travel.
The coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in mid-December, 2019. The earliest cases were linked to a seafood and meat market in Wuhan. The disease is thought to be zoonotic in origin or spread from animals to humans. Genetic testing has shown that this variant of the coronavirus is new, meaning that people have very few antibodies and increasing the likelihood of the disease spreading.
Symptoms of the coronavirus include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Some patients may present with diarrhea and upper respiratory problems. When the disease progresses, vulnerable patients are subject to severe pneumonia, organ failure, and death.
The illness is spread through respiratory droplets in the air. Close contact with the patient increases the chance of infection.
The incubation period of the novel coronavirus may be as long as 24 days, meaning that current quarantine procedures lasting 14 days are not adequate to catch all possible cases of the disease.
China has instituted draconian requirements for its quarantine programs. People are forcibly removed from their homes if they are suspected to have the disease and are being treated in central facilities.
In response to the rapidly spreading disease, many countries have instituted travel bans and quarantine requirements. Airlines from around the world are suspending flights to and from China. As a result, many travelers are trapped in China, especially in the hard-hit area around Wuhan.
Most countries are requiring that travelers who have been to China in the past 14 days are quarantined or not allowed entry to the country. The United States has barred entry from all foreign nationals who have visited China in the past 14 days and imposed a quarantine on citizens returning from travel to China.
Flights from foreign countries are also being checked for infected passengers using temperature measurements and physical exams. All international flights in the United States are being diverted to 11 airports with enhanced screening capabilities, including Chicago O’Hare Airport and Los Angeles International Airport. Time will tell whether these methods have helped to curtail the spread of the dangerous disease.
Bans Based on Nationality
In an alarming move, several cruise lines have announced that holders of Chinese passports will not be allowed on their ships. This is in addition to passport holders from Macao and Hong Kong.
This restriction makes little sense because it is not based on actual travel to China, where the disease may be contracted, but on a suspicion based on country of origin. This type of restriction encourages xenophobia and prejudice against Chinese nationals.
Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines own about 30 percent of the world’s cruise ships, and their restrictions place a significant burden on Chinese passport holders.
Cruise Ship Issues
Several cruise ships around the world are also experiencing quarantine conditions due to coronavirus fears. One notable example is the Diamond Princess, which is moored in Yokohama, Japan with more than 3,500 passengers and crew. As of February 10, there have been 135 cases of the disease on board the Diamond Princess, including 20 Americans.
The unique conditions on a cruise ship, including tight accommodations and crowding, are particularly prone to infection from a variety of diseases. Many cruise ship passengers are older, and the coronavirus has been especially damaging to aging patients.
It is understandable that cruise ship passengers would be quarantined under these conditions, but the passengers and crew alike are worrying about their health and about the ability to take care of people who have fallen ill.
Prospects for the Coronavirus
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine or established treatment for the disease; at least not yet. Since the disease is of viral origin, antibiotics are ineffective unless there is a secondary bacterial infection.
Public health professionals estimate that the virus could potentially become a pandemic with a global spread. Vaccines are in development, but it is likely that they would not have passed testing requirements until the disease has died down on its own.
Caution Versus Fear
Chinese nationals are suffering from discrimination over fears of the novel coronavirus. While quarantine and isolation protocols will prevent the disease from rampant growth, there is no need to restrict travel based on country of origin alone. Jean Danhong Chen encourages all travelers to know their rights and to keep tabs on the rapidly evolving state of the novel coronavirus.