Ebola crisis: Republicans ramp up calls for west Africa travel bans
are stepping up pressure for travel bans on passengers arriving from Ebola-stricken countries in west Africa, calling for a vote on quarantine measures in the House of Representatives as the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) acknowledged it was assessing the question “on a day-to-day” basis.
The White House and senior US health officials continue to insist such measures would be counter-productive because they would hamper efforts to control the epidemic at its source, but the growing clamour from critics in Congress means the issue is becoming a major political battleground in Washington.
During the into the administration’s handling of the crisis in Washington on Thursday, a succession of Republican congressmen joined the House speaker, John Boehner, in calling on the administration to urgently review its opposition to tighter travel restrictions.
Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican and doctor of obstetrics and gynaecology who is the vice-chair of the subcommittee that held the hearing, said it was time for the full commerce committee to propose a vote on quarantine measures in the House.
Such a vote is highly unlikely to force the administration’s hand unless there is overwhelming support in the Senate as well, but the call for it points to the growing politicisation of the Ebola threat in the run-up to next month’s midterm elections.
“This should not be represented as an all-or-none choice,” said the subcommittee chair, Tim Murphy, a Pennsylvania Republican. “We can and will create the means to transport whatever supplies and goods are needed in Africa to win this deadly battle. We do not have to leave the door open to all travel to and from hot zones in western while Ebola is an unwelcome and dangerous stowaway on these flights.”
An created by The Hill claimed 34 Republicans and five Democrats have already declared themselves in favour of travel bans.
The border protection officer John Wagner told the hearing that there are no direct flights from Sierra Leone, Guinea or Liberia to the US, meaning that any quarantine measures would have to apply to passengers travelling via other countries.
Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), testified at length that any such travel restrictions would encourage travellers from Africa to hide their travel information and make it harder to check them for fevers when they arrive in the US.
“We want to make sure that individuals who are travelling to the United States are monitored … and screened appropriately,” added the White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, in a separate daily media briefing.
But in comments to reporters the FAA administrator, Michael Huerta, suggested there was still an ongoing debate within the administration on whether to change the policy in response to growing fears about the risk of Ebola transmission within the US.
“We are now working together and assessing this on a daily basis,” Huerta said at an event in Washington. “CDC’s determination is that a travel ban in and of itself doesn’t address the challenges that we have here,” he added. “But this is something that we continue to monitor.”
Asked if he had discussed a ban with the White House, Frieden said, “We have had discussions on the issue of travel to and from west Africa.” He added that he would not rule out a ban entirely, saying: “From the CDC’s perspective we will consider anything that will increase the safety of Americans.”
Screening measures introduced on 11 October at JFK airport in New York have led to eight passengers undergoing testing there. Similar systems were put in place at Dulles outside Washington DC, Newark and Chicago airports on Thursday.