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Trump right to restrict travel to fight coronavirus

Chinese government officials and the World Health Organization are bad-mouthing the Trump administration for trying to stop the coronavirus from invading the United States. The Trump administration is barring foreigners who have been in China recently from entering the U.S. Americans returning from China are quarantined for 14 days. China accuses Trump of arousing fear. WHO claims the president’s policies “unnecessarily interfere with travel and trade.” Don’t fall for this bombast.

You can’t fight an epidemic with political correctness. Trump’s travel restrictions are saving lives here and sparing U.S. hospitals, which are already overwhelmed by flu season, from being thrown into crisis.

Instead of bashing the U.S., WHO officials should be criticizing China’s abusive methods of disease containment. Chinese officials are offering cash or free masks to anyone who squeals on sick neighbors. Suspected virus carriers are dragged from their homes and trucked to quarantine warehouses, where medical care is lacking but contracting the virus is almost guaranteed. People daring to report the dire conditions on social media are silenced. In China, the public is under control, not the disease. The daily death count is steadily rising.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the risk of anyone contracting coronavirus is “low,” according to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. The Trump administration’s travel restrictions are intended to keep it that way.

On Jan. 31, U.S. health officials seized a tiny window of time to close off travel before the coronavirus could spread inside the U.S. So far, there are only 13 cases here, including 11 recent travelers and two spouses later infected in the United States.

Before shutting down travel, the U.S. relied on temperature screening at airports to identify infected travelers. That’s a waste. New research just released in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows infected people can spread coronavirus even if they haven’t developed fever or other symptoms yet.

The incubation period — the time with the infection before symptoms — can last 14 days, making the virus hard to contain.

How deadly is coronavirus? Current guesstimates are that 2 percent of victims die. That’s about 40 times as deadly as this year’s flu.

Coronavirus is spreading fast inside Chinese hospitals, infecting health care workers and patients who went in with other maladies. Forty-one percent of coronavirus patients in the Wuhan hospital portrayed by JAMA caught the virus in the hospital. A hospital is one of the most dangerous places to be.

That’s no surprise. In 2003, when SARS — another Chinese coronavirus — struck Ontario, a staggering 77 percent of people infected with SARS there got it in the hospital.

It started when a Toronto man, whose mother had been to China two weeks earlier, went to the hospital feeling ill. For 16 hours, he was kept in a packed emergency room, where his virus infected the man just beyond the curtain in an adjacent bed and another man three beds away. They spread it to doctors and nurses, hospital housekeepers and other patients.

Ontario’s government concluded that SARS spread because “infection control was not a priority” in the hospitals. Patients were not isolated quickly, and caregivers failed to wear masks to protect themselves and frequently treated sick patients without first donning disposable gowns and gloves to prevent the virus from spreading.

These same problems are typical in U.S. hospitals. A recent drill conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that hospitals in New York City have “suboptimal adherence to key infection control practices.”

That means they are unready for coronavirus. Without the Trump administration travel restrictions, travelers unaware that they have the virus would be pouring into the U.S. and then going to an ER when symptoms appear. That would be a disaster for hospitals and patients.

The Trump administration has sent 18 tons of medical equipment to China and is pledging $100 million to fight the epidemic. America is being generous. But fighting it over there, not here, is the right idea.

Betsy McCaughey is a Creators Syndicate columnist.

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