Coronavirus: U.S. Citizens Being Evacuated from Wuhan to Southern California
The U.S. State Department announced Monday that it will fly Wuhan-area diplomats and staff to southern California’s Ontario Airport, about 38 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, on Wednesday morning.
STORY UPDATE: The U.S. government-chartered flight touched down at March Air Base in Riverside County at 8:11 a.m., following a brief stop for refueling in Anchorage, Alaska.
Originally bound for Ontario International Airport, the flight was redirected late Tuesday.
The destination will no longer be San Francisco International Airport, as had been previously reported.
A chartered flight will evacuate the entire staff from the U.S. Consulate-General in Wuhan, one of the seven American diplomatic and consular posts in the People’s Republic of China.
All travelers will be screened for symptoms at the airport prior to departure and will be monitored upon arrival.
“The Department of State has ordered U.S. Consulate-General Wuhan personnel to depart for the United States,” according to a State Department statement issued Monday afternoon.
The following email was sent out to interested parties.
“The Department of State has ordered U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan personnel to depart for the United States. A special chartered flight is being arranged to leave from Wuhan Tianhe International Airport on Tuesday, January 28, 2020 and will proceed to Ontario, California, via Anchorage, Alaska.
The plane is currently estimated to arrive in Wuhan at approximately 10 p.m. (22:00) and will depart as soon as possible thereafter. We strongly recommend that you arrive at least 3 hours ahead of the estimated departure time, i.e. 6 p.m. (18:00).
You will be responsible for your own transportation to Wuhan Tianhe International Airport Terminal 3 by 7 PM. If you will travel to the airport in a personal vehicle, please provide our license plate number to us as soon as possible to facilitate travel through checkpoints…”
First established in 1861, the consulate in Wuhan provides emergency services to U.S. citizens in the region and promotes economic and cultural exchanges.
The move is a sign of how seriously U.S. officials take the outbreak, which continues to spread throughout Asia and the rest of the world. The new coronavirus has caused at least 2,700 cases of pneumonia in China, claiming at least 82 lives. Nearly 60 million people have been affected by partial or full quarantines in Wuhan and two adjacent cities.
Also on Monday, the State Deparment issued a Level 3 travel advisory for the whole of China on Monday following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A Level 3 warning advises citizens to avoid all nonessential travel to the country.
There is already a Level 4 warning for Hubei province, which strongly advises against traveling to the area where the city of Wuhan is located and where the 2019-nCoV was first identified.
In a news conference Wednesday morning, Chris Braden, a deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the 195 passengers who arrived at the March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County shortly after 8 a.m. will be evaluated over the course of three days before they may go on to their next destination.
Some passengers, he said, may choose to stay for the full, two-week incubation period. Those who choose to leave after three days will be monitored by their local and state health officials for the remaining two-week period, he added.
While the passengers are not under a federal quarantine, Braden said, the passengers have expressed their willingness to stay on base for the 72-hour observation period.
— Dr. Cameron Kaiser (@RivCoDoc) January 29, 2020
Why did the federal government divert a plane full of evacuees leaving the epicenter of the deadly coronavirus in Wuhan, China, away from landing at Ontario International Airport as originally planned?
A San Bernardino County official suggests it may have been the airport’s inability to provide comfortable accommodations for the 195 American passengers — most of them employees of the U.S. State Department — at temporary facilities it had set and the fact that March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, where the plane landed Wednesday morning, Jan. 29, had access to more than 400 hotel rooms on the base.
In fact, the passengers are under temporary isolation in two buildings that are part of The March Inn near the base’s parade field, said Linda E. Welz, a spokeswoman for the base. The area has been cordoned off and is being monitored by security and medical personnel, she said.
San Bernardino County Supervisor Curt Hagman, who was in communication with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the lead agency, prior to the Wuhan flight’s arrival, said he was asked to scour hotels in the Ontario-Rancho Cucamonga area to house the evacuees about 24 hours before the plane was to land at Ontario.
“Before the plane was diverted, the feds asked us to try to find hotels but there wasn’t anything practical or open,” he said in an interview Thursday, Jan. 30. He said he simply couldn’t find rooms for more than 200 people. The hotels were at 90% capacity. “There were no facilities available (near Ontario airport),” he said.