U.S. Sen. Mike Braun joined four other senators who’ve historically criticized COVID-related government mandates in asking President Joe Biden to ban travel from China due to reports of increased respiratory illnesses in the country. 

The Dec. 1 letter to Biden refers to a “mystery illness” in China, although neither that country nor the World Health Organization has suggested there’s a new virus spreading.

The WHO has requested information from China on the rise of respiratory illnesses and reports of pneumonia in children, according to a November statement from the agency. Chinese authorities attributed the increase in respiratory diseases to the country’s lifting of COVID-19 restrictions a year ago, the WHO said.

A Chinese health official told Reuters that the rise in respiratory illnesses is from “known pathogens” and that “there is no sign of new infectious diseases.”

But Republican Sens. Braun, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, J.D. Vance of Ohio, and Rick Scott and Marco Rubio of Florida argue in their letter that Biden should not wait to restrict travel to China because the country “has a long history of lying about public health crises.” They point to former President Donald Trump’s action in January 2020 to restrict travel from China as concerns grew around COVID-19.

The senators’ letter also criticized the WHO’s relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.

“We should not wait for the WHO to take action given its track record of slavish deference to the CCP,” the letter states, without providing examples.

U.S. Sen. Mike Braun (R-IN) answers questions from readers about his bid for Indiana governor during an interview with the IndyStar on Monday, Nov. 20, 2021, at the PNC Center in Indianapolis.

Braun on COVID responses

All five of the Republican signatories have been critical of described government overreach during the coronavirus pandemic, especially mask mandates and lockdowns.

Braun, who is running for governor in a crowded primary next year, told IndyStar in 2021 that Gov. Eric Holcomb should have lifted statewide COVID-19 restrictions sooner and emphasized the need for individual responsibility rather than precautions like mask mandates.

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In a September opinion piece for IndyStar about his agenda for the governor’s office, Braun wrote that harsh restrictions during the pandemic hampered the state.

“We cannot return to COVID-19 restrictions and mandates that shut our schools, masked our kids and closed down main street businesses,” Braun wrote in the opinion.