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International air cargo traffic continues through Anchorage amid new travel restrictions

An Atlas Air Boeing 747-400 freighter takes off at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Sept. 30, 2019. Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport was ranked the 5th busiest cargo airport in the world last year. (Bill Roth / ADN)

Cargo crews flying into Anchorage from China are being screened for the new coronavirus as cargo flights from China are excluded from new White House restrictions on travel aimed at blocking the virus’s spread, officials said.

“This exemption is intended to prevent the interruption of cargo traffic while providing guidance measures to safeguard the health of both the crew and the general public,” the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities said in a statement to media Friday.

Crews arriving at the airport from China will be screened for the virus by agents at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. If a crew member does show symptoms of the illness, staff from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who work at the airport’s quarantine station will further screen the individual.

Both cargo flights and passenger flights that would normally come from Wuhan, China, to the U.S. have been suspended indefinitely. The suspension includes cargo flights that the Anchorage airport receives from Wuhan, the city where the outbreak of the upper respiratory illness first began, the statement noted.

White House guidelines stipulated that since Feb. 3, any U.S. citizen who has entered the country from China or has been in China within the previous two weeks is screened for the virus and then continue with up to 14 days of self monitoring to evaluate whether they show symptoms of the virus.

Additionally, any U.S. citizen who has been in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, in the previous two weeks is “subject to up to 14 days of mandatory quarantine,” White House officials said during the briefing on Jan. 31.

Officials also said that foreign nationals who have been in China in the past two weeks and aren’t permanent residents or immediate relatives of American citizens aren’t allowed to enter the U.S.

A FedEx cargo jet takes off from the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Jan. 14, 2020. (Matt Tunseth / ADN)

Daily cargo flights from the Chinese cities of Shanghai, Zhengzhou and Guangzhou regularly arrive at the Anchorage airport, though it varies from day to day and depends on the season, Jim Szczesniak, the airport’s manager previously said in an interview.

Anchorage’s international airport doesn’t have any direct passenger flights from China arriving, and all other passenger flights from China to the U.S. are being sent to 11 airports in the Lower 48, according the announcement.

Alaska health officials have continually stressed that the spread of the coronavirus is a much smaller concern compared to the spread of influenza, an illness that kills tens of thousands of Americans and sickens millions every flu season.

The Federal Aviation Administration published guidelines on Sunday for U.S.-based flight crews that arrive in China, urging crews to monitor their health, use private transportation to hotels and reduce time in public. The FAA advised against using public transportation there.

“Minimize going out into the general population, and use social distancing (maintain a distance of approximately 6 feet, if possible) whenever out in public," the guidelines state. "Avoid crowds, stores, sporting or mass entertainment events, and other situations likely to attract large numbers of people.”

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