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White House overruled health officials on coronavirus flight advice

Trump officials ordered air travel line be removed from virus plan.

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Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis meet with cruise line company leaders to discuss efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus on Saturday (Gaston De Cardenas/AP)

Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis meet with cruise line company leaders to discuss efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus on Saturday (Gaston De Cardenas/AP)

Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis meet with cruise line company leaders to discuss efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus on Saturday (Gaston De Cardenas/AP)

The White House reportedly overruled US health officials who wanted to recommend elderly and physically fragile Americans be advised not to fly on commercial airlines because of the coronavirus.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) submitted the plan this week as a way of trying to control the virus, but White House officials ordered the air travel recommendation be removed, a federal official with direct knowledge of the plan told The Associated Press (AP).

Trump administration officials have since suggested certain people should consider not travelling, but they have stopped short of the stronger guidance sought by the CDC.

The person who spoke to AP did not have direct knowledge about why the decision to kill the language was made.

Virus Outbreak Donald Trump
President Donald Trump on a visit to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Friday. The president responded to criticisms from Washington state governor Jay Inslee about his administration’s response to the coronavirus by calling Mr Inslee ‘a snake’ (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/AP)

In a tweet, the press secretary for Vice President Mike Pence, Katie Miller, said that “it was never a recommendation to the Task Force” and called the AP story “complete fiction.”

On Friday, the CDC quietly updated its website to tell older adults and people with severe medical conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease to “stay home as much as possible” and avoid crowds. It urges those people to “take actions to reduce your risk of exposure,” but does not specifically address flying.

Mr Pence, speaking on Saturday after meeting with cruise ship industry leaders in Florida, targeted his travel advice to a narrower group: older people with serious health problems.

“If you’re a senior citizen with a serious underlying health condition, this would be a good time to practice common sense and to avoid activities including travelling on a cruise line,” Mr Pence said.

He added political authorities were looking to cruise line officials for action, guidance and flexibility with those passengers.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar suggested older Americans and those with health problems should avoid crowds “especially in poorly ventilated spaces”.

For most people, the flu-like viral illness causes only mild or moderate symptoms. But — like the flu — it can cause pneumonia and be much more lethal to people made frail by old age and by conditions that make it harder for their bodies to fight infections.

For weeks, cases in the US remained very low but the count has been accelerating in the past several days.

President Donald Trump visited the CDC in Atlanta on Friday, where he defended his administration’s handling of the outbreak and tried to reassure Americans the government had the virus under control.

But Mr Trump also detoured from that message, calling Washington state governor Jay Inslee a “snake” after his criticisms of the administration’s coronavirus response, and saying he would prefer people exposed to the virus on a cruise ship off San Francisco be left aboard so they would not be added to the nation’s tally.

PA