WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two planes carrying about 300 passengers, mostly U.S. citizens, took off from Wuhan, China, on Thursday bound for the United States, marking the third group of evacuees the State Department has airlifted from the heart of the coronavirus outbreak, the agency said.
One of the flights could accommodate more than 60 Canadian nationals, who will disembark on a stop in Vancouver, British Columbia, before the remaining passengers continue on to the United States, a State Department spokeswoman told Reuters.
The final U.S. destination of the two planes was not given. But several U.S. military bases have been designated as quarantine sites for evacuees arriving from Wuhan or the surrounding province of Hubei, where the coronavirus originated.
“The Department of State has no higher priority than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad,” the spokeswoman said.
The first evacuation flight from Wuhan, carrying 195 State Department employees, their family members and other Americans, arrived Jan. 29 at March Air Reserve Base near Los Angeles.
Another group of nearly 350 Americans airlifted from Wuhan aboard two more chartered cargo jets arrived on Wednesday – 178 of them taken to Travis Air Force Base in northern California and 167 others to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near San Diego.
Assuming the same protocols are followed for the latest wave of evacuees, they will be met by personnel from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for screening and will be placed under quarantine for 14 days, the extent of the incubation period for the coronavirus.
Any who show signs of illness will likely be hospitalized in isolation off base, as have a total of at least six passengers who exhibited fever, cough or other possible symptoms of the disease upon their arrival at Travis and Miramar.
With approximately 240 U.S. passengers expected to arrive with the latest airlift on Friday, the total number of individuals subject so far to the CDC’s first public health quarantine in 50 years would reach nearly 800.
The United States and other countries have stepped up efforts to evacuate their citizens from China, where the coronavirus outbreak has infected more than 30,000 people and killed at least 600, most in and around Wuhan.
The CDC has said the risk of widespread transmission of the disease in the United States remains very low, but the Trump administration last week declared a U.S. public health emergency to curtail the chance of the disease spreading.
Twelve cases have been confirmed in the United States, none fatal. All but two of the patients fell ill after traveling to China and were exposed to the virus there. Just two cases are known to have been transmitted person-to-person within the United States – both spouses of individuals who were infected abroad.
As part of the public health emergency announced on Jan. 31, the U.S. government has barred U.S. entry of all foreign nationals who have recently been in China.
The CDC also has ordered mandatory two-week quarantine for all U.S. travelers who have visited China’s Hubei Province, while Americans who were elsewhere in mainland China are subject to 14 days of self-quarantine and monitoring.
All commercial flights carrying Americans home from China are being directed to one of 11 U.S. international airports, where passengers will be screened by the CDC.
Reporting by Eric Beech in Washington; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Lincoln Feast.