Ebola hearings in Congress.
The question of why the administration has not restricted travel to the hot zones was asked of White House spokesman Josh Earnest today, and briefly provided a moment of levity..
But the question remains open. The administration seems fine with taking a risk that some asymptomatic Ebola victims will arrive in America despite the screening efforts, expressing confidence the system will protect Americans if they later present at the local hospitals with symptoms. This despite the FUBAR with index patient zero, Mr. Duncan, in Dallas. That's not a very comforting assurance. It almost has the impression of a cost-benefit analysis, ie, a few American deaths are worth trading to prevent a collapse of west African governments, which could lead to a bigger world problem. Just hope you're not collateral damage.
But isn't there almost a de facto travel ban in place already? Here's some information on current airline services into the hot zone countries...
For Monrovia, Liberia, it appears there are only two: Brussels Airlines, with flights to Brussels, and Royal Air Maroc, with flights to Freetown and Casablanca. It's a bit humorous to see that Delta suspended its much-heralded flights from JFK to Monrovia on August 31st due to "weak passenger demand".
For Freetown, Sierra Leone, the same two still flying to Monrovia, Brussels and Royal Air Maroc to the same destinations as from Monrovia.
And for Conakry airport in Guinea, it appears Air France with service to Paris, Royal Air Maroc with service to Casablanca, and Brussels Airlines with service to Brussels is the extent of it.
So it's not like Obama could use his pen and phone and shut down Brussels Airlines, Royal Air Maroc and Air France operations to west Africa. As of this minute there's no American flag carrier service to this area already and no non-stop flights on any airlines. Maybe that's why they can come across so cavalierly in opposing a travel ban--it's basically in place already. In today's hearings (and other media questioning) CDC chief Frieden stressed that a ban would make it harder to track people arriving here from the hot zone countries and cause a widespread world outbreak. Thing is, the surrounding countries have already imposed bans, which they credit with keeping the spread under control so far.
That doesn't leave many ways for sick people in the hot zone countries to get out. They can't drive out of their area and can only fly to 3 or 4 cities if they can get past screeners. In other words, maybe US authorities feel they have the few conduits of passage well viewed, perhaps even with the assistance of FBI or DHS tracking.
Of course, if law enforcement or transportation agencies are actually monitoring people it didn't work too well for Mr. Duncan. One could even question why he wasn't moved to one of the top-notch Ebola treatment facilities as have all the other American cases so far. Were they rigidly trying to follow a stupid protocol that was later changed, or was someone trying to send a subtle message to foreigners that coming here via deception might not result in a good outcome? The Pentagon was only yesterday warning about a mass migration across our borders should Ebola spread to our southern neighbors, which would be based on the notion that once here they would have to be treated. But treated how, like Duncan or the Americans?
But let's end this on a positive note. We are coming closer to the end of the 21 day incubation period for Mr. Duncan's friends and relatives who at last check were spending some quality time in an undisclosed quarantine location. As far as the media has been told none of them have come down with the virus. Also, nobody on the plane with Duncan came down with it. So it's entirely possible the public quasi-panic will begin to subside soon if none of the casual contacts with Duncan or his nurses show any symptoms. Other nurses or doctors working close to the patients coming down with it would not spread the same panic.
Taken another way, if in a few weeks Obama takes full credit for solving Ebola that will actually be a good thing for the nation because it will mean, 1) we know more about the virus and how to handle it, and 2) it didn't become a widespread outbreak, none of which would be blamed on Obama if things get worse. Politically speaking, this good news would not likely affect the mid-term elections very much because people expect the government to act when bad things come up and everyone knows the initial reaction was poor. If things get worse nobody will care about the elections.
To co-opt an Obama phrase, let me be clear. This blog called for Visa/passport bans weeks ago. Those are not travel bans. As pointed out above, there are no US carriers running flights into the hot zones anyway. Flights will still run if the overseas airlines want to run them. That's why the State Department's incessant argument that banning travel would cause huge problems in fighting the disease there deserves a big "how"? The only thing that would change would be the delay of people in the hot zones getting into the US. Run a quarantine, like the relatives of the Dallas index patient. How f-ing hard is that? We've heard our military will be subject to quarantines.
Simply standing there at the podium and arrogantly refusing while admitting that as many as 100 Visa applications are coming in per day in the hot zones is beyond the pale.