U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) hosted a conference call with the Trade on March 13 to discuss the current status of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) outbreak and its effect on Cargo and Port Operations.
CBP reiterated that the Presidential Proclamation issued on March 11 pertains specifically to travelers and not cargo. The medical community does not view cargo as a transmission vector for the virus at this time, but if CBP receives different guidance, they will relay that information immediately. The Presidential Proclamation also excludes crewmen from entry suspension. To that point, the Coast Guard issued guidance in February stating that as long as a crew member is not displaying symptoms of COVID-19, they can arrive and proceed as normal. The crew, however, may be subject to additional health screenings when they arrive. As for aircrew, if there is a cargo flight with crew only, they may continue on as usual. If not, foreign nationals and U.S. citizens will be funneled to one of the 13 screening airports.
As for the amount of cargo being processed, CBP states that there has been an immediate decline in express cargo, as well as a decline in other areas. There has been a slow-down in growth in air cargo, but the agency will continue to monitor the situation. China has seen an overall decline in vessels leaving the country, but vessels are still allowed to arrive at U.S. ports.
To date, CBP staffing has not been negatively impacted. However, with the widespread closure of schools, the agency believes they will see more of an impact next week. CBP says that all telework enabled staff will be teleworking starting next week and they will assess telework on a weekly basis and expand if necessary. Some Officers with suspected exposure are in a 14-day quarantine, but numbers are relatively low at this point. The agency is prepared with contingency plans to prioritize critical functions if more staff become unavailable for work.
The Office of Trade stated they remain focused on the USMCA implementation. They are looking into converting planned in-person meetings to webinars and conference calls.
At this time, COVID-19 has not impacted the Entry Type 86 and Data Pilots. CBP is monitoring the situation and will prioritize if/when the time comes.
To help combat the virus, CBP says they are "very quickly" granting exclusions for items that can help. HTS exclusions are in the works and CSMS messages are being issued.
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