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United cancels flights to and from China as CDC steps up coronavirus screenings

“Americans should not worry for their own safety,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.

United Airlines canceled two dozen U.S. flights to and from China, the carrier announced Tuesday, as American health authorities stepped up efforts to battle the fast-spreading coronavirus.

The 24 round trips involved routes originating in San Francisco, Newark, Dulles and Chicago's O'Hare International airports with destinations in Beijing and Shanghai.

The Chicago-based airline didn't specifically cite the virus but said a sudden drop in travel to China forced the cancellations.

"Due to a significant decline in demand for travel to China, we are suspending some flights between our hub cities and Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai beginning Feb. 1 through Feb. 8," according to a company statement.

"We will continue to monitor the situation as it develops and will adjust our schedule as needed."

Earlier Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would increase the number of American ports of entry with screening for the coronavirus from five to 20.

For the past week, travelers from the disease's epicenter in Wuhan, China, have been screened for signs of the illness when they stepped off planes in Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Chicago's O’Hare International Airport.

Fifteen additional quarantine stations will be opened in Anchorage, Alaska; Boston; Dallas; Detroit; El Paso, Texas; Honolulu; Houston; Miami; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia; San Diego; Seattle; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and another along the U.S.-Mexico border, officials said.

"The CDC has reassessed its entry strategy and decided to expand to screen travelers from the five airports originally to 20 airports in the United States," Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said.

Despite those stepped up screenings, U.S. health officials said the risk posted to Americans is minimal.

“Americans should not worry for their own safety,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said.