Trump Was Furious That Cruise Ship Passengers With Coronavirus Were Brought Back to U.S.


WASHINGTON — President Trump was infuriated that 14 American citizens who had tested positive for coronavirus were permitted to return this week to the United States, said two senior administration officials. The decision had taken the president, a self-declared “germophobe,” by surprise.Officials at the State Department decided to bring back the citizens, who had been quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, after consulting with a senior official at the Department of Health and Human Services. But officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention objected, concerned that the passengers, among hundreds of Americans being evacuated from the ship, could spread the virus. News organizations reported on the decision on Monday, and the passengers arrived in the United States that day.Mr. Trump, furious at not having been briefed on the Americans who had tested positive, relayed his anger to Alex M. Azar II, the health and human services secretary, and other top officials. They then alerted the White House interagency task force on the coronavirus, which Mr. Azar oversees. One official said Mr. Trump views shutting the borders to infected people as critical to keeping the country safe and wants to be seen as managing a proper response.The top State Department official on the task force is Stephen E. Biegun, the deputy secretary of state.During the early legs of a four-day trip this week to the West Coast meant to bolster his re-election effort, Mr. Trump paid close attention to Fox News’s coverage of the Diamond Princess that played aboard Air Force One.Word of Mr. Trump’s anger had already begun circulating among officials on Tuesday morning. The Washington Post first reported on it on Friday.In 2014, during an Ebola crisis in Africa, Mr. Trump, who was then a private citizen, angrily demanded that the Obama administration cancel flights and bar anyone infected with the virus from entering the country — including American medical workers who had gone to Africa to help. “KEEP THEM OUT OF HERE!” he wrote in a July 31 tweet after learning that one American medical worker would be evacuated to Atlanta from Liberia.

Updated Feb. 22, 2020

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“The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter the next day, adding: “People that go to far away places to help out are great — but must suffer the consequences!”There have been at least 634 infections and two deaths from the Diamond Princess, which Japanese officials kept in isolation for two weeks at a port in Yokohama. That effort at a quarantine contributed to the virus’s rapid spread among passengers. The cluster from the ship is the largest concentration of coronavirus cases outside China, warranting its own category in data compiled by the World Health Organization.American officials began a complex evacuation procedure for 328 passengers aboard the Diamond Princess on Sunday night. All had been examined by American medical experts and showed no symptoms of the coronavirus, Dr. William Walters, managing director of operational medicine at the State Department, and Dr. Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, said on Monday during a conference call with reporters.But as those passengers were bused to Haneda Airport in Tokyo early Monday morning, Japanese officials told American counterparts that laboratory tests for 14 passengers had come back positive, Dr. Walters said. The tests had been conducted two to three days earlier, but American officials, believing the timing of the results would be “unpredictable” because of the volume of testing being done in Japan, began the evacuation without having all results in hand.American passengers who had already tested positive or who had displayed symptoms had been sent to hospitals in Japan, Dr. Walters said.After they learned that 14 passengers had tested positive, American officials…

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