Asylum seekers from China being held in federal detention center at Honolulu airport
There are no people in mandatory quarantine for the deadly coronavirus that is sweeping across the globe, according to the state Department of Health.
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Two asylum seekers from China trying to flee from the deadly coronavirus were taken into custody at the airport by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after trying to enter Hawaii.
“As we understand they’re being held at the federal detention center. With that there is no risk to our residents or visitors,” said Janice Okubo, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health, adding that there are no people in mandatory quarantine for the disease sweeping across the globe. A spokeswoman for the federal detention center adjacent to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport did not return calls for comment.
The U.S. declared a public health emergency due to the outbreak in China, placing a temporary ban on foreign nationals who recently traveled to the country — other than immediate family of U.S. citizens and permanent residents. The federal government also ordered an unprecedented 14-day quarantine of those who visited Hubei province within two weeks.
The Health Department said it is unclear exactly where in China the individuals are from or whether they were exposed to the virus that has killed more than 400 in mainland China and affected more than 20,000.
“They must have come in before the new rule came into effect,” Okubo said. She said state officials do not have jurisdiction over the foreign nationals. “Our staff is just being informed of these things. I would think if there was a concern that they would tell us.”
State Rep. Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai-Kalama Valley) was surprised by the news revealed Tuesday morning during a health briefing at the state Capitol by Health Director Bruce Anderson.
“The director interrupted testimony to mention a group of Chinese had been detained at the airport. My immediate reaction was, Is this biological or ideological asylum?” Ward said. Federal officials have been tight-lipped about the situation and have not released additional information on the asylum seekers, he said.
“These two Chinese, we don’t know whether they came off a flight indirectly through China or went to the mainland and came back. We have an international crisis going on. This is a pandemic. We have to take it very seriously with an overabundance of caution to do all we can to assure the public that things are safe. We are just a fragile, small, little place — 50% of our economy is in jeopardy.”
Honolulu is now one of 11 airports where all flights to the U.S. from China will be funneled, though direct flights from China to Hawaii have been suspended.
The state has identified a quarantine site at a military base at Pearl Harbor for any travelers who have been to Hubei province within 14 days or are considered high-risk, whether or not they show symptoms of the deadly coronavirus.
Hawaii should be secondary, not primary, for people coming from China, said Ward, who tweeted Tuesday morning, “Surprise development at the Honolulu Int’l Airport where we just learned there is a group of mainland Chinese Nationals seeking asylum from the caronavirus (sic).”
“We got to protect our people No. 1, but No. 2 we got to protect our economy. If we had any outbreak in Hawaii, particularly on Oahu, particularly in Waikiki, we would become a no-fly zone,” he said. “Unfortunately we are overly dependent on the visitor industry so we have to protect tourism.”