President Donald Trump has repeatedly credited his February ban on travelers from mainland China as his signature move against the advance of the coronavirus pandemic — a “strong wall” that allowed only US citizens inside, he boasted in May.
But Trump’s wall was more like a sieve.
Exempted were thousands of residents of the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau. Efforts to track US residents returning from mainland China were riddled with errors and broken communications.
An analysis of Commerce Department travel entry records and private aviation data obtained by The Associated Press shows that nearly 8,000 Chinese nationals and foreign residents of Hong Kong and Macao entered the US on more than 600 commercial and private flights in the first three months after the ban was imposed.
When US residents flying from mainland China arrived at US airports, the system meant to flag and monitor them for the development of symptoms lost track of at least 1,600 people in just the first few days the ban went into effect, according to internal state government emails obtained by the AP.
Trump’s continuing travel restrictions on China, which he followed with a ban on travel from European nations in March and a new prohibition on entry from virus-plagued Brazil last month, remain the administration’s first line of defense against foreign sources of the pandemic. “We did a great job on CoronaVirus, including the very early ban on China,” Trump tweeted last week. “We saved millions of US lives!”
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