Travelers could be rerouted to HNL under rules aimed at preventing spread of coronavirus

Updated: Feb. 3, 2020 at 2:29 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - DHS officials are warning travelers their flights could be rerouted to one of 11 gateway airports ― including Honolulu ― if officials discover mid-flight that someone onboard has been in China in the last 14 days. Individual travelers could also be rerouted on Honolulu-bound planes under the new entry restrictions put in place amid the coronavirus outbreak.

There have been 11 confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S., mostly involving recent travel to the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began.

Hawaii has seen no confirmed or suspected cases of the disease.

Under the new restrictions, U.S. citizens who have been in China within 14 days of their planned travel will be permitted to enter the country through one of 11 airports:

Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle-Tacoma, Chicago O’Hare, Atlanta, John F. Kennedy, Washington, D.C., Newark Dallas-Fort Worth and Detroit.

At those airports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will screen passengers.

Authorities previously announced that Americans returning from the epicenter of the outbreak ― Hubei province, China ― will be quarantined for 14 days.

Foreign nationals who have traveled to China within the last 14 days will be temporarily barred from entry. This does not apply to immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

[Read more: New coronavirus details show challenge for outbreak control]

[Read more: Philippines reports 1st coronavirus death outside of China]

Lt. Gov. Josh Green told Hawaii News Now that the state had 72 hours to prepare for the changes.

On Monday, meanwhile, China Eastern Airlines suspended its direct flights from Shanghai to Honolulu.

Green called that a relief. since teams had been scrambling to prepare for the federal quarantine order.

“That was the main flight of concern,” said Green. “That means we should not have a surge from that flight and that should give us more time to prepare."

He added, "I think everyone in Hawaii should know we don’t like this plan.”

Green also said the state is working with the military to secure a location on Oahu that could quarantine as many as 120 people.

Passengers rerouted to Honolulu will undergo three different levels of screening to ensure no one slips through the cracks.

“We have a team that meets them (at the airport)," Green said, “and if someone has to be quarantined because they came from the region, they will be transported to the quarantine area and will be there for 14 days, unable to go out into the general public.”

“We have the hospitals ready in case.”

The U.S. earlier advised against all travel to China as the number of cases of the worrying new virus spiked. Delta, United and American Airlines have suspended all U.S. to China flights.

So far, the virus has infected nearly 20,000 people — mostly in mainland China — and killed 426.

Former Hawaii residents who live in mainland China say the outbreak has brought life to a halt.

For the last seven years, Hawaii native Tommy Hines has lived in the Chinese city of Shenzhen.

He says the government has been telling everyone to wear masks and on Saturday, security teams started conducting temperature checks in public areas.

“When you go into a store, you will get your temperature checked. If you go to the metro station, they’re going to take your temperature," Hines said.

“Security will stop you before you go into your apartment and they’ll check again your temperature.”

Hines says he’s trying to get back to Hawaii, but is worried his wife will be denied entry because she’s Chinese.

Even though they live hundreds of miles away from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, he says the city is like a ghost town.

“You can’t go out, you can’t go to restaurants, you can’t go anywhere. The city is just sort of locked down,” said Hines.

On Sunday, the Philippines reported the first death from the new virus outside of China.

Philippine officials say a 44-year-old Chinese man from the region where the outbreak began was admitted on Jan. 25 with a fever, cough and sore throat before he developed severe pneumonia. His female companion also tested positive.

The Philippines has since joined the U.S. and others in barring entry to travelers from China.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar has stressed the risk to Americans of contracting the coronavirus remains low, but said the entry precautions are prudent.

Before the stricter restrictions were implemented, authorities announced enhanced screening for passengers at 20 airports nationwide, including Honolulu (where the CDC has a quarantine station).

This story will be updated.

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