HOURS-LONG LINES greeted travelers at several large airports over the weekend as authorities rushed to implement enhanced medical screening due to new coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
Travelers in the customs line at Dallas Fort Worth airport took to social media to report long lines. In New York, customs agents donned in protective masks boarded a flight from Paris. And at Chicago’s O’Hare International airport, travelers shared photos of massive crowds and said they expected to wait hours to get through customs.
Officials on Saturday hurried to implement President Donald Trump’s new travel restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Foreign nationals who have visited most European countries as well as China and Iran within the last 14 days are barred from entering the U.S. under the restrictions.
U.S. citizens and permanent residents are allowed to return home, but flights carrying them are being directed to 13 major U.S. airports. Once they arrive at those airports they are subject to medical screening and a request to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker late on Saturday took to Twitter to call out the Trump administration for the crowds.
“The crowds & lines O’Hare are unacceptable & need to be addressed immediately,” Pritzker said. “The federal government needs to get its s@#t together. NOW.”
In a statement, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf said the agency was aware of the long customs lines for travelers returning from affected countries.
“DHS is aware of the long lines for passengers who are undergoing increased medical screening requirements. Right now we are working to add additional screening capacity and working with the airlines to expedite the process,” Wolf said, adding that it takes about 60 seconds for each passenger to be screened.
As of Sunday morning, more than 2,900 people in the U.S. have tested positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, and at least 57 people have died, according to data compiled by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
Daily life in the U.S. continues to be dramatically altered, while pressure on elected officials to impose curfews or other restrictions in large cities grows as people continue to flock to bars and clubs. Health experts have urged the public to distance themselves from others to stop the spread of the virus.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pleaded with residents on Sunday morning to practice social distancing.
“What we do next will have a massive impact on the trajectory of this virus in New York. We can only maintain public health by STAYING APART. The decision each of makes now will impact us all tomorrow. STAY HOME,” Cuomo tweeted.
Countries around the world continue to impose restrictions. Spain announced a nationwide lockdown Saturday and France closed all nonessential businesses. Both China and Australia introduced mandatory two-week quarantines for travelers coming into the country.
Pope Francis said Sunday that he will lead services for Holy Week next month in front of a virtual audience instead of the tens of thousands that usually crowd Vatican City for the events.