An airline industry official told CNN that Trump administration officials briefed US airlines Tuesday on measures being taken to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The official said the White House mentioned the possibility of banning flights to China, but said they are not now issuing such a ban, and said the administration would evaluate the situation daily to determine whether more measures need to be taken.
Following a report on CNBC that the White House told airline executives it’s considering suspending flights from China to the United States — a move that CNBC says could affect airports across the United States —a senior administration official pushed back on that characterization, saying, “The White House did not call the airlines and hasn’t asked for a suspension of flights between the US and China.”
Separately, a White House aide said that at a Monday session looking at ways to contain the spread of the virus, the notion of travel restrictions to China was raised. And on Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declined to rule out such a possibility, saying nothing was off the table.
Azar also told reporters that he and Trump were “speaking regularly” about the coronavirus outbreak, which has infected close to 6,000 people in China, and that he was in daily contact with White House officials.
“The President is highly engaged in this response and closely monitoring the work we’re doing to keep Americans safe,” Azar said.
A White House source described the attitude toward coronavirus as a “sense of urgency, not panic.” Inside the White House, the government’s cross-agency response is being coordinated by the National Security Council, with Matt Pottinger, the deputy national security adviser, leading near daily meetings, according to administration officials.
“The full weight of the US Government is working on this,” a senior administration official said on Tuesday. “As with any interagency effort of this scale, the National Security Council works closely with the whole of government to ensure a coordinated and unified effort.”
In the meantime, United Airlines (UAL) announced Tuesday that it will temporarily reduce its schedule between the United States and three cities in China in light of the Wuhan virus. The airline said in a statement that “significant decline in demand” has forced it to suspend flights from February 1 though February 8 between its US hubs and Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
In total, 24 round trips are affected. They are between Hong Kong to San Francisco and Newark; Beijing (PEK) to Washington Dulles, Chicago O’Hare and Newark; and Shanghai (PVG) to San Francisco, Newark and Chicago O’Hare.
“We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops and will adjust our schedule as needed,” the airline said.
It’s the most drastic action yet by a US airline as the deadly coronavirus continues to spread. American Airlines (AAL), Delta Air Lines (DAL) and United all extended change fee waivers through the end of February.
In a statement, American said “we have not adjusted our flight schedule at this time. We are continuing to closely monitor the situation.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said it is now monitoring for symptoms of the virus among passengers arriving at 20 US airports.