Wuhan, China, has become a household name in the U.S. after being identified as the source of the recent outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, which has prompted U.S. health officials to launch enhanced health screenings at five U.S. airports. Sea-Tac is not on that list, even though data from OAG, a leading provider of global travel data and insight, indicates 231 passengers arrived at the Seattle airport last year from Wuhan via indirect flights ― an indication of the travel levels between the two cities.
Sea-Tac Airport officials stress that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) runs the process for handling arriving international-passenger screenings. The CDC has indicated that it “will implement enhanced health screenings to detect ill travelers traveling to the United States on direct or connecting flights from Wuhan” and that those travelers will be rerouted through one of five major airports, which include San Francisco and Los Angeles international airports.
“[Any] additional screening would be a decision and operation that they [CDC] would invoke due to their expertise,” Sea-Tac Airport spokesperson Perry Cooper says. “They [the CDC] have told us our risk is low, and we follow their advice.”
The outbreak of the coronavirus in the central China city of Wuhan has already led to nearly 3,000 confirmed cases worldwide, including 82 deaths in China as of Monday, Jan. 27, a figure that has been rising fast. As of the same date, 110 potential cases of the virus were under investigation in 26 U.S. states, and there have been five confirmed cases of the infection in the U.S. ― one involving a man in his 30s from Snohomish County who arrived at Sea-Tac Airport via an indirect flight from Wuhan, according to multiple media reports.
An OAG blog post indicates that determining which passengers are coming into the United States from Wuhan may not be an easy task, however, given thousands of travelers from that Chinese city book domestic flights to a half a dozen other airports in China first before continuing on to international destinations.
“Six of the top ten gateway cities for bookings travelling to international destinations are actually located in China with Guangzhou the key gateway,” the OAG blog post states. “Use of OAG’s data therefore indicates that domestic flights from Wuhan to these points should also be checked for passengers showing symptoms of the virus.”
CDC officials were not immediately available for comment on that potential bug in the system.
The handling of the coronavirus outbreak has implications for businesses in Seattle as well, given the huge volume air travel booked by companies in the area. Suzanne Fletcher-Juneau, a Seattle-based senior associate with the global travel consultancy Inform Logistics and past president of the Puget Sound Business Travel Association, says the combination of Boeing, Amazon and Microsoft alone generated an estimated $650 million in air-travel spending in 2018.