U.S. senators urge Biden administration to suspend travel to China amid rising respiratory illness cases

Marco Rubio

2nd December 2023 – (Washington) Five U.S. Republican senators, headed by Marco Rubio, called upon President Joe Biden’s administration to impose a temporary ban on travel between the United States and China in light of an increase in respiratory disease cases in China.

In a letter penned by Rubio, the leading Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, as well as Senators J.D. Vance, Rick Scott, Tommy Tuberville, and Mike Braun, they stressed the urgency of setting up immediate restrictions on travel between the US and China until the risks posed by this new illness are thoroughly understood.

The surge in cases took on global significance last week when the World Health Organisation (WHO) requested additional information from China, following a report from the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases on clusters of unexplained pneumonia in children.

However, an official from the Biden administration stated that while the US is carefully observing the rise in respiratory diseases in China, the current findings reflect seasonal trends, and nothing seems unusual. They added, “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.”

Liu Pengyu, the spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, criticised the letter authored by Rubio and his peers, labelling the claims as baseless and ill-intentioned fabrications, which China firmly opposes.

In a statement released earlier this week, Maria Van Kerkhove, the acting head of the WHO’s department of epidemic and pandemic preparedness and prevention, suggested that the increase in cases might be due to a rise in the number of children contracting pathogens that they had successfully avoided during two years of COVID-19 restrictions.

Over the past few months, the U.S. and China have been gradually increasing the number of flights between the two countries, although the total number remains significantly lower than pre-pandemic levels. The number of approved flights rose to 35 per week for each country on 9 November, up from 12 per week in August.

In January 2020, former President Donald Trump imposed a ban on most non-U.S. citizens who had recently been in China from entering the US over COVID concerns, but did not restrict flights between the two countries.

The travel restrictions were lifted for fully vaccinated international visitors, including those from China, in November 2021. A separate requirement that air travellers test negative before arriving in the U.S. was rescinded in June 2022.

In January, the US started requiring air passengers to get negative COVID tests after Beijing’s decision to lift its strict zero-COVID policies, but these requirements were lifted in March.