WASHINGTON— Experts on disease control said on Wednesday that quarantines and travel bans on China are not enough to control the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak and said the U.S. should provide more assistance to China and collaborate with other nations.
“We don’t have a travel ban, we have a travel band-aid right now,” Ron Klain, former White House Ebola response coordinator, told a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. Klain said the Trump administration should be engaging diplomats globally to help other nations fight the disease, despite China’s refusal to collaborate with other world powers. He also urged the administration to present an emergency funding package to fight the coronavirus.
Reps. Gerry Conolly, D- Va., and Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, are introducing a measure that would establish a permanent government official in charge of epidemic and pandemic preparedness. Klain praised the bill at the hearing, but said additional policies are needed to mitigate the coronavirus outbreak.
Jennifer Nuzzo, associate professor and senior scholar at John Hopkins University’s Center for Health Security, said at the hearing that quarantines are not effective in combating the coronavirus because it is not known who should be isolated. As the virus rapidly spreads, people who have not been in China may be infected. Isolating travelers from China is insufficient and ineffective, said Nuzzo.
“We don’t know if travelers from other countries have the virus. We also don’t know if they’re already here,” said Nuzzo.
Klain and Nuzzo said monitoring individuals is a preferable to quarantines and travel bans. Foreign entities might stop reporting cases to avoid travel bans from the U.S., while quarantines disincentivize health workers from volunteering abroad, said Nuzzo.
Committee members and witnesses said that the U.S. cannot stop importing essential goods from China, such as vital medical equipment, which offers an additional risk for contamination.
“Reducing the amount of travel is good, but we need to be honest that we will always be at risk because we will never turn off the supply chain of traffic coming into the U.S.,” said Klain.
Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation, said that Congress is willing to work closely with the Trump administration to fight the coronavirus outbreak. He hopes to establish a long-term policy for fighting epidemics.
“Let’s just stop responding to crisis after crisis,” said Bera. “Let’s actually make this part of our national security agenda.”