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Five senators ask Biden to impose China travel ban after respiratory illness cases

Published 12/01/2023, 11:03 AM
Updated 12/01/2023, 08:21 PM
© Reuters. U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks at CS Wind, the largest wind tower manufacturer in the world, in Pueblo, Colorado, U.S., November 29, 2023. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Five Republican senators led by Marco Rubio on Friday asked President Joe Biden's administration to ban travel between the United States and China after a spike in Chinese respiratory illness cases.

"We should immediately restrict travel between the United States and (China) until we know more about the dangers posed by this new illness," said the letter signed by Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, along with Senators J.D. Vance, Rick Scott, Tommy Tuberville and Mike Braun.

The rise in cases became a global issue last week when the World Health Organization asked China for more information, citing a report on clusters of undiagnosed pneumonia in children by the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases.

A Biden administration official said the United States was closely monitoring the uptick in respiratory illnesses in China, but added, "We are seeing seasonal trends. Nothing is appearing out of the ordinary. ... At this time, there is no indication that there is a link between the people who are seeking care in U.S. emergency departments and the outbreak of respiratory illness in China."

The spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, said in response to the Rubio letter, "The relevant claims are purely ill-intentioned fabrications. China firmly opposes them."

Maria Van Kerkhove, acting director of the WHO's department of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, said earlier this week the increase appeared to be driven by a rise in the number of children contracting pathogens that they had avoided during two years of COVID-19 restrictions.

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In recent months, the United States and China have been steadily increasing flights between the countries, though they remain far below 2019 levels. The number approved rose on Nov. 9 to 35 per week for each country, up from 12 per week in August.

In January 2020, then-President Donald Trump barred most non-U.S. citizens who had recently been in China from entering the United States over COVID concerns, but did not restrict flights between the two countries.

The United States lifted the unprecedented travel restrictions for fully vaccinated international visitors starting in November 2021, including from China. The U.S. rescinded a separate requirement that air travelers test negative before arriving in June 2022.

The United States in January had started requiring air passengers to get negative COVID tests after Beijing's decision to lift its stringent zero-COVID policies, but lifted the requirements in March.

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