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Coronavirus

US to evacuate citizens from Wuhan to California on Wednesday

All 240 will be screened in advance and stop in Alaska

A chartered flight will depart from Wuhan's Tianhe International Airport on the morning of Jan. 29, China time, for arrival in Ontario, California, with a stop in Anchorage to refuel.   © Reuters

NEW YORK/PALO ALTO, U.S. -- Hundreds of diplomats and other American citizens stranded in the Chinese city of Wuhan will be evacuated Wednesday local time on a chartered flight as the deadly coronavirus continues to spread in the outbreak's epicenter.

A chartered flight will depart from Wuhan's Tianhe International Airport that morning for arrival in Ontario, California, a U.S. State Department spokesperson told the Nikkei Asian Review on Monday. Ontario is about 60 km east of downtown Los Angeles.

The aircraft, procured by the department to evacuate consulate personnel and their families, will offer limited space for other Americans, who may be asked to cover their own travel expenses. All travelers will be screened for symptoms prior to departure.

Boarding priority has been given to U.S. citizens most vulnerable to the virus, according to the State Department spokesperson: small children, older adults and those with preexisting health conditions that put them at greater risk. Family members of those individuals may also be allowed to accompany them, the spokesperson said.

The State Department spokesperson did not specify which airport the chartered flight will land at. Ontario International Airport, the Ontario area's main civilian commercial airport, said Monday that it is working closely with federal, state, county and city partners to plan for "the possibility of a flight carrying U.S. government officials and private citizens returning this week from Wuhan, China."

The airport will continue normal operations during this period, its statement said.

If the returning passengers do arrive at Ontario International Airport, preparations are being made to ensure that proper health, safety and security procedures are followed, according to the statement. 

The airport said it is "taking whatever steps are necessary to minimize the risk to our customers, our staff and the community at large," without detailing medical screening or quarantine plans.

The evacuation aircraft was previously scheduled to leave Wuhan on Tuesday local time and proceed directly to San Francisco, according to an earlier State Department announcement.

In a separate news release Monday, the state of Alaska, where the plane will make a refueling stop, said: "Anyone with signs or symptoms of illness will not be allowed to board the aircraft."

The repatriation effort will evacuate approximately 240 U.S. citizens, it said.

"Given Alaska's proximity to Asia, we have been asked to assist our federal partners in this effort to facilitate travel out of China back to the United States to bring these U.S. citizens home," Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in the statement. The state and its local, federal and tribal partners "have been working closely to ensure the health and safety of all Alaskans while assisting with this request," he said.

Also on Monday, the State Department raised its travel advisory for China to its second-highest level of 3 ("reconsider travel"). The advisory for the epicenter of Hubei Province was raised to the highest level of 4 ("do not travel") on Thursday.

There have been five confirmed cases of the virus in the U.S., mostly on the West Coast. All the infected patients recently traveled from Wuhan.

On Monday, China's National Health Commission reported a total of 2,744 cases and 80 deaths as of the end of Sunday.

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