WASHINGTON - Everyone coming to the United States from the three West African countries at the centre of the Ebola outbreak will now be screened for the deadly disease at one of five airports, the Homeland Security Department said Tuesday.
Earlier this month, Customs and Border Protection officers at New York's Kennedy, Newark Liberty, Washington's Dulles, Chicago's O'Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta airports started screening people arriving from West Africa. The screening includes using no-touch thermometers to determine if travellers have a temperature, one symptom of a possible Ebola infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is also working with DHS on the screening.
There are no direct flights to the United States from the three Ebola-stricken countries in West Africa. About 94 per cent of the roughly 150 people travelling daily from West Africa to the U.S. arrive at the one of the five airports. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Tuesday that now everyone travelling from Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea will have to land in the U.S. at one of the five airports and then fly on to their destination.
The new requirement means that people travelling from the region who were not originally passing through one of those five airports will have to rebook their flights.
Johnson said DHS now has "measures to identify and screen anyone at all land, sea and air ports of entry into the United States who we have reason to believe has been present in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea in the preceding 21 days."
Concerns about travellers infected with Ebola have risen since a Liberian man travelled from the region to Dallas last month. Thomas Eric Duncan became the first person in the United States diagnosed with Ebola, a few days after arriving from West Africa. He died on Oct. 8.
Since then, two nurses who helped care for him have also been diagnosed with Ebola.
Some members of Congress have urged President Barack Obama to ban all travel from West Africa. Tuesday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., praised the expansion of airport screening but again urged Obama to halt all travel from the region.
"President Obama has a real solution at his disposal under current law and can use it at any time to temporarily ban foreign nationals from entering the United States from Ebola-ravaged countries," Goodlatte said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., described the move as an "added layer of protection against Ebola entering our country."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the policy was an example of Obama's willingness to consider additional restrictions on travellers from West Africa.
"The president stands ready to consider additional travel restrictions as necessary," Earnest said Tuesday. He added that Obama believes the new restrictions "will further protect the American people."
Associated Press reporter Darlene Superville contributed to this report.