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Visitors From Virus-Hit Chinese Province Almost Toured the Pentagon

The department canceled the tour at the last minute due to concerns about the coronavirus epidemic.

The Pentagon logo and an American flag are lit up in the briefing room of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on Jan. 3, 2002.
The Pentagon logo and an American flag are lit up in the briefing room of the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on Jan. 3, 2002. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Every year, more than 100,000 people from all over the world sign up for a free, guided tour of the Pentagon. Visitors walk 1.5 miles through the world’s largest low-rise office building while listening to a guide—usually a young uniformed service member—recite 33 pages worth of information about the history of the U.S. military.

So when six people from China’s Hubei province signed up to take a tour of the Pentagon, nobody thought twice about it.

That was before a rapidly spreading viral outbreak emanating from the city of Wuhan—the capital of Hubei province—erupted into a global health emergency, killing almost 500 people and sickening more than 20,000 worldwide.

The coronavirus outbreak has put parts of China on lockdown, shuttering entire cities and bringing the world’s second-largest economy to a virtual standstill. Multiple countries, including the United States and Australia, have closed their borders to foreign visitors from China, as airlines suspend their flights into the country.

Last week, the virus’s effects were felt more than 7,000 miles away. The Pentagon Force Protection Agency (PFPA) decided it was too risky to allow the individuals from Hubei to visit the building, which is home to 26,000 employees. The Pentagon canceled the tour on Jan. 29, Pentagon spokeswoman Sue Gough told Foreign Policy.

“I can confirm that six individuals from China’s Hubei Province were scheduled for a Pentagon tour on Jan. 30, and were subsequently disapproved for participation,” Gough said via email. “The decision to cancel the tour for the individuals was made out of an abundance of caution, with the health and safety of Pentagon employees in mind.”

PFPA consulted with the Pentagon public health emergency officer, who advised canceling the tour, Gough said.

“Individuals may be disapproved or cancelled for tour participation for a variety of reasons, including health and safety concerns,” she added.

Gough declined to provide the names of or any additional information about the individuals, citing privacy reasons.

With hundreds of thousands of personnel working abroad, the Defense Department is monitoring the outbreak closely. The Pentagon has approved the use of six military installations across the country for quarantine evacuees returning to the United States from Wuhan. The department will only provide housing support, and DOD personnel will have no contact with the evacuees.

“The department has continued to provide force health protection information to our forces overseas and domestically,” said chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman. “The health and safety of our forces, their families, and our base communities are our top concern with regard to coronavirus.”

Lara Seligman is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @laraseligman

Tag: China

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