A chartered flight with about 210 Americans aboard arrived in Alaska to refuel on its first US stop since leaving the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in China.
The fast-moving coronavirus has killed 130 people and infected 6,000 others in China — most of them in the hardest-hit city of Wuhan. Five cases of the disease have been confirmed in the United States.
The flight chartered by the State Department left Wuhan on Wednesday local time, and stopped in Anchorage, Alaska.
From there, it will head to the March Air Reserve Base near Riverside, California, where it’ll arrive early Wednesday.
The flight was originally planned to land at the civilian Ontario International Airport — about 35 miles from Los Angeles.
It’s not immediately clear why the itinerary was changed from the civilian airport to a military base. Curt Hagman, a San Bernardino County commissioner who is on the board of the Ontario airport, said they were informed Tuesday night that the plane will not land there.
The passengers will go through a series of screenings during the trip and after they land.
Experts from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention will screen them in Anchorage to determine whether they are healthy enough to continue on to California.
Passengers who have a cough, fever or shortness of breath in Anchorage will be further assessed by medical experts, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
“These individuals will be screened before they take off; monitored during the duration of the flight by medical personnel on board; screened again on landing to refuel in Anchorage, Alaska; monitored on the last leg of the flight by medical personnel on board; evaluated upon arrival at March Air Reserve Base … and then monitored for symptoms post-arrival,” the CDC said.
The passengers may be forced to stay in isolation between three days and two weeks.
Authorities were setting up beds, phone chargers and televisions in an isolated, dormant hangar at Ontario International Airport. It’s unclear whether the same procedure will be followed at the military base, which is in a different county.
The passengers include US diplomats and their families. The State Department had said American citizens could also board on a reimbursable basis if space was available.
While there are about 1,000 Americans living in Wuhan, priority was given to US citizens who are “most at risk for contracting coronavirus” if they stay in the city, the State Department said.
It said it was unable to accommodate everyone due to space limitations, but it’s working to identify alternative routes for US citizens to depart Wuhan by land.
The State Department issued a Level 4 advisory for Wuhan, meaning Americans should not travel to the city while the virus has an impact, Vice President Mike Pence said. It also ordered personnel working at the US Consulate in Wuhan to depart for the United States.
Other countries including South Korea and Japan are also sending charters to evacuate citizens from the epicentre of the outbreak. The European Commission said it was sending two aircraft to evacuate European Union citizens out of Wuhan.
Meanwhile, in the most drastic action yet by a major airline as the deadly coronavirus spreads, British Airways has suspended flights between the United Kingdom and China.
The UK’s Foreign Office warned people against travelling to mainland China in all but essential cases.