DHS to funnel passengers traveling from Ebola hotspots through five US airports

The Department of Homeland Security announced Tuesday that travelers from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea must enter the US through one of five designated airports that have advanced screening procedures in place.

Eduardo Munoz/Reuters/Files
Passengers make their way through a security checkpoint at JFK International Airport in New York, Oct. 11. Travelers entering the United States whose trips originated in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea must fly into one of five airports that have enhanced screening in place, the US Department of Homeland Security said on Tuesday.

The Department of Homeland Security announced new travel restrictions Tuesday for people arriving in the United States from Ebola hotspots in West Africa.

Beginning Wednesday, people arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea will have to travel through one of five designated airports that have advanced screening capabilities in New York, Newark, Washington, Chicago, and Atlanta.

Those airports already account for about 94 percent of travelers entering the US from those West African nations, according to DHS. Under the new guidelines, however, all travelers from the West African nations will need to enter through those airports.

The added restrictions will apply to about nine travelers per day who will be required to enter through one of the five designated airports, according to Jean Medina, a spokeswoman for Washington-based trade group Airlines for America, or A4A.

"A4A members are cooperating fully with US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to reroute the six percent," Ms. Medina said.

The group's members include Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and American Airlines. None of them fly to the affected countries. In fact, there are no direct, non-stop commercial flights from Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea to the US. However, they could carry passengers from the affected countries on connecting flights.

The latest restrictions are part of an ongoing effort to prevent the Ebola virus from spreading in the US, where worry has run high since Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola in the US, died in Dallas on Oct. 8. The Liberian national had recently returned to Dallas after visiting family in Liberia. To date, Duncan is the only fatality in the US. Two nurses who cared for him also have been diagnosed with Ebola.

"We are continually evaluating whether additional restrictions or added screening and precautionary measures are necessary to protect the American people and will act accordingly," DGS Secretary Jeh Johnson, said in a statement Tuesday. 

Since December 2013, more than 9,000 people have been diagnosed with Ebola in the three West African nations hit hardest by the outbreak. More than 4,000 of those patients have died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Customs officials estimate that about 150 people enter the US daily from the three most affected countries, according to NBC News. Since screenings began earlier this month, more than 550 people have received enhanced screenings at these five airports. None of those passengers have been diagnosed with the disease, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Material from Reuters was used in this report. 

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