Coronavirus: Delta, American Airlines, United temporarily suspend all flights to China amid outbreak concerns

CHICAGO -- Delta Air Lines, American Airlines and United Airlines will temporarily suspend all flights between the United States and China amid growing concerns surrounding the deadly coronavirus outbreak, the companies announced Friday.

United, the largest U.S. based carrier that flies to China, announced Friday that it will suspend flights from Feb. 6 until March 28.

"Until that date, we will continue to operate select flights to help ensure our U.S. based employees, as well as customers, have options to return home," the Chicago-based company said in a statement. Daily flights will continue between San Francisco and Hong Kong.

Delta said the last China-bound flight will leave Feb. 3 and the last U.S.-bound flight from China will leave Feb. 5. The suspension will continue through April 30, and the Atlanta-based airline announced it will offer accommodations and refunds.

American Airlines also announced Friday that it will suspend flights to China's mainland now through March 27. The airline said it will also assist affected customers.

On Friday afternoon, President Donald Trump's Coronavirus Task Force declared the virus a "public health emergency" in the U.S. and announced new action to limit its spread. Trump will temporarily bar entry to the U.S. of foreign nationals believed to be at risk of transmitting the virus. The new restrictions begin Sunday afternoon. Americans returning from Hubei province, the center of the outbreak, will be required to undergo 14 days of quarantine. Others returning from elsewhere in China will be allowed to self-monitor their condition for a similar period.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called this "prudent and targeted action" and insisted "risk to Americans is low."

For the time being, incoming flights from China will be routed through seven U.S. airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, San Francisco International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu and Los Angeles International Airport.

Several major international airlines, including Air France, British Airways and Scandinavian Airlines have suspended service to China.

This comes one day after the United States issued a "do not travel" warning to China and the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a global emergency.

Currently, the new coronavirus has infected more than 9,800 globally. Most of the 213 deaths have been in central Hubei province, where illnesses from the new type of coronavirus were first detected in December.

The National Health Commission reported 171 cases have been "cured and discharged from hospital." WHO has said most people who got the illness had milder cases, though 20% experienced severe symptoms. Symptoms of the new coronavirus include fever and cough and in severe cases, shortness of breath and pneumonia.

China was arranging special flights to help Wuhan residents return home from holidays abroad. Some waiting for a flight leaving Bangkok said they wanted to return to take care of their loved ones.

China's foreign ministry gave few details on the flights, but said people from Hubei and especially Wuhan would be sent directly back as soon as possible in light of the "practical difficulties" they were encountering.

China has placed more than 50 million people in the region under virtual quarantine, while foreign countries, companies and airlines have cut back severely on travel to China and quarantined those who recently passed through Wuhan. Infected people don't show symptoms immediately and may be able to pass on the virus before they appear sick.

Since China informed WHO about the new virus in late December, at least 20 countries have reported cases, as scientists race to understand how exactly the virus is spreading and how severe it is.

Experts say there is significant evidence the virus is spreading among people in China and WHO noted with its emergency declaration Thursday it was especially concerned that some cases abroad also involved human-to-human transmission. It defines an international emergency as an "extraordinary event" that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response.

The United States has confirmed one case of person-to-person transmission.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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