US State Department Charter Flight Departs China Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Jan 28, 2020, 5:12 PM | Updated: Feb 17, 2020, 12:20 pm
Two residents walk in an empty Jiangtan park on January 27, 2020 in Wuhan, China. As the death toll...
Two residents walk in an empty Jiangtan park on January 27, 2020 in Wuhan, China. As the death toll from the coronavirus reaches 80 in China with over 2700 confirmed cases, the city remains on lockdown for a fourth day. (Photo by Getty Images)
(Photo by Getty Images)

(CNN) – A California-bound flight chartered by the U.S. State Department left the China city at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday morning local time, a department spokesman said.

About 240 Americans could be on the flight from Wuhan Tianhe International Airport. It will stop to refuel in Anchorage, Alaska, before arriving early Wednesday in Ontario, California, about 35 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, according to Alaska Department of Health and Social Services spokesman Clinton Bennett.

About three dozen U.S. diplomats and their families are expected to be on board, a U.S. official with knowledge of the matter told CNN. The State Department has said American citizens could board on a reimbursable basis if space is available.

Priority was been given to U.S. citizens who are “most at risk for contracting coronavirus” if they stay in city, a State Department official said. There are about 1,000 Americans living in Wuhan.

“All passengers will be subject to CDC screening, health observation, and monitoring requirements,” the State Department said in a statement.

There will be three health checks for people on the flight, according to Ivar Satero, director of the San Francisco International Airport.

The State Department said it was unable to accommodate everyone due to space limitations.

“The Department of State is working diligently with the government of China to identify alternative routes for U.S. citizens to depart Wuhan over land,” said an automated email reply from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

The State Department issued a Level 4 advisory for Wuhan, meaning “no American should travel to Wuhan while this virus continues to have impact,” Vice President Mike Pence said Monday.

The department also ordered personnel working at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan — the epicenter of the outbreak — to depart for the United States, the official said in a statement Monday.

The order came on the same day as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its website that it was monitoring for symptoms of the Wuhan coronavirus at 20 U.S. airports.

The CDC had previously enhanced screening of passengers from Wuhan, China, at five airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, San Francisco International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

The European Commission said it was sending two aircraft to evacuate European Union citizens out of Wuhan, according to a statement Tuesday.

The EU will cofinance the transport costs, with the first aircraft scheduled to depart from France on Wednesday morning and the second later this week, said Janez Lenarcic, commissioner for crisis management, in a statement.

About 250 French citizens will be transported in the first aircraft and more than 100 EU citizens from other countries will be on board the second flight, the statement said.

Other countries, including South Korea and Japan, will send in charters to evacuate its nationals from the epicenter of the outbreak.

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US State Department Charter Flight Departs China Amid Coronavirus Outbreak