DHS: Cargo not deemed COVID-19 threat

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) confirmed that cargo is not part of the latest travel restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus despite mixed messages from President Donald Trump.

In a televised speech Wednesday evening, Trump said the suspension, which begins Friday, applied to all travel from 26 European countries to the United States, and that the ban “will not only apply to the tremendous amount of trade and cargo, but various other things as we get approval.”

Trump walked that statement back in a tweet about an hour later, asserting that trade “will in no way be affected” by the restrictions. In clarifying the policy, DHS overlooked the conflicting statements.

“President Trump was clear last night that trade will not be affected,” a DHS spokesperson confirmed to FreightWaves, noting that Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which oversees cargo security for imports and exports, “continues to process cargo at its normal rate as there has been no identified threat as it relates to cargo shipments.”

On the maritime side, DHS said vessels, crewmembers or passengers recently in affected areas “will have their arrivals fully vetted to safeguard the American public yet facilitate trade. This safety protocol is not anticipated to slow down the movement of cargo.”

The U.S. Coast Guard, which is part of DHS, has had a policy in place since January that requires commercial ship crews that have been in China within the previous two weeks, or who embarked on a vessel that has been to China during the same period, to remain on board the vessel while calling at U.S. ports.

The latest restriction applies specifically to foreign nationals who have been in the 26 countries cited in the proclamation within the past 14 days. Those who are exempt from the restrictions, which include American and British citizens, “will be directed to a limited number of airports where screening can take place,” according to a fact sheet issued by the White House.

President Trump’s formal proclamation further notes that the ban will remain in effect until the president terminates it. “The Secretary of Health and Human Services shall recommend that the President continue, modify, or terminate this proclamation,” it states.

While the latest ban may not apply specifically to air freight moving in dedicated cargo planes, recent flight reductions by the airlines have sidelined valuable space below deck that shippers rely on, placing a premium on all-cargo freighters and driving up rates. That trend will presumably continue given the number of flights in the popular U.S.-European market.