Americans evacuated from city at center of coronavirus outbreak land in California

Author: CBS News
Published: Updated:
A Japanese chartered plane carrying evacuees from Wuhan, China, landed at Haneda international airport in Tokyo Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

A plane chartered by the U.S. government to evacuate 201 Americans from the Chinese city at the center of the coronavirus outbreak landed in Southern California Wednesday morning. It was carrying diplomats from the U.S. Consulate in Wuhan and other U.S. citizens. All the evacuees cleared initial health checks in China and then during a refueling stop in Alaska.

By Wednesday morning the flu-like virus had killed at least 132 people, all of them in China. Close to 6,000 others have been infected in more than a dozen countries, including five confirmed cases in the United States. More than 100 people in the U.S. were being tested for the disease across 26 states on Tuesday.

Before the flight left China there were more than 1,000 Americans stuck in Wuhan. Other countries have also begun evacuating citizens from China on chartered flights, and some major airlines were halting flights to mainland China. The Trump administration was considering a complete travel ban on China as it evaluates the best ways to stop the virus spreading.

Coronavirus can be transmitted by people showing no symptoms, and a top British infectious disease specialist said Monday that the actual number of cases around the world could be close to 100,000.

Coronavirus death rate is now about 2%, WHO says

The death rate from the coronavirus is currently about 2%, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

Most people who have contracted the virus have experienced only mild illness. But Michael Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Programme, said the virus’ proliferation is concerning.

“A relatively mild virus can cause a lot of damage if a lot of people get it,” he said.

About 99% of the 6,000 total coronavirus cases are in China, and of those, the vast majority are concentrated in Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus’ outbreak. Ryan said 71 cases have been reported in 15 other countries, and the majority of those cases are associated with travel to China.

A central concern for WHO is human-to-human transmission occurring outside China. As it stands, there are few instances of such cases.

WHO to consider declaring coronavirus a global health emergency

The World Health Organization’s emergency committee on the coronavirus outbreak is expected to gather again on Thursday to determine if the virus should be declared a “public health emergency of international concern.”

Director General Tedros Adhonom Ghebreyesus announced Wednesday that he decided to reconvene the committee to reconsider the virus’ classification and “what recommendations should be made to manage it.”

According to Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, the meeting is a necessary first step so the organization can potentially move forward with a greater international response, which could include developing a vaccine.

The meeting is planned to start at 1:30 p.m. local time in Geneva, Switzerland, and will be followed by another press conference.

Plane lands at March Air Reserve Base near L.A.

The plane evacuating Americans from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the center of the virus outbreak, landed Wednesday morning at March Air Reserve Base east of Los Angeles.

All passengers had passed health screenings, which were conducted during a refueling stop in Anchorage, Alaska.

The passengers will undergo additional screenings in California and be placed in temporary housing. Officials have not said how long they will stay there.

–The Associated Press 

An aircraft, chartered by the U.S. State Department to evacuate government employees and other Americans from the novel coronavirus threat in the Chinese city of Wuhan, arrives at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California, U.S., January 29, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Blake

U.S. will keep evacuees isolated on California air base

The U.S. military said Wednesday that the Air Reserve Base in Southern California awaiting the arrival of about 200 evacuees from Wuhan, China, would keep service members clear of the passengers, who would be restricted to their temporary living quarters.

A federal government spokesperson familiar with the plan told CBS News on Wednesday that the passengers on the flight would be quarantined and observed for at least three days in California. Depending on results, those showing symptoms could be quarantined for as long as two weeks.

“We stand ready for their arrival,” Department of Defense Press Secretary Alyssa Farah said in a statement released Wednesday. She said the Department of Health and Human Services would be responsible for the evacuees, “and DoD personnel will not be directly in contact with the evacuees and evacuees will not have access to any base location other than their assigned housing.”

Farah said plans were in place for HHS to evacuate any passengers identified as possible cases of the new coronavirus to “a local civilian hospital.”

China has more cases of new virus than it did SARS

China has reported more infections from the new coronavirus than it had from an outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in 2002-2003, although the death toll was still much lower. China has confirmed 5,974 cases of the new virus, compared to 5,327 cases of SARS during that outbreak.

Beijing reported another large jump in cases early Wednesday and a rise in the death toll to 132. That compares to 348 people killed in China during SARS. That disease killed nearly 800 people worldwide.

Scientists say there are still many critical questions to be answered about the new virus, including just how transmissible and severe it is. More than 50 cases have been reported outside China, including five confirmed in the U.S.

U.S. considering China travel ban as virus spreads

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said a complete ban on travel to and from China is among the options the Trump administration is considering as it tries to address the rapid spread of the deadly new coronavirus.

Pompeo noted to reporters on a flight to Europe Wednesday that the U.S. had issued its highest level of alert for Wuhan, warning Americans to entirely avoid the city considered ground-zero of the outbreak.

“We will evaluate it on a continuous basis, literally hour by hour, whether that’s the appropriate level in Wuhan and whether we get it right in other places,” Pompeo said. “That includes travel advisories, a wide range of things, including banning travel.”  

Australian lab says it’s recreated virus in bid to help stem it

Scientists in Australia have claimed a “significant breakthrough” in efforts to combat the rapid spread of the deadly new strain of coronavirus from China.

CBS News partner network BBC News said researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity had become the first to recreate the “novel coronavirus 2019” strain outside of China. Chinese researchers have also duplicated the virus, but BBC said they have only shared it’s genome sequence with the World Health Organization. The Australian researchers said they would provide the duplicated virus to the WHO to help efforts to diagnose and treat it.

Researchers at the specialist lab in Melbourne told the BBC they were able to grow a copy of the virus from a sample taken from an infected patient.

“We’ve planned for an incident like this for many, many years and that’s really why we were able to get an answer so quickly,” the Doherty Institute’s Dr Mike Catton told the BBC.

U.S. evacuees clear first health checks, head for California

The plane evacuating more than 200 Americans from a Chinese city at the center of a virus outbreak continued Wednesday on to southern California after everyone aboard passed a health screening test in Anchorage, where the aircraft had stopped to refuel.

All 201 passengers had already been through two screenings in China and were screened twice more in Anchorage by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

State health officials said there was minimal interaction between the crew and health professionals on the flight with the passengers.

They also confirmed that the air circulation system in the terminal at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage used for the flight was “completely separate” to the rest of the airport.

It was unclear exactly when the plane would land at a military base in southern California, but the officials said it should be between three and four hours.


U.K. to quarantine evacuees from Wuhan for 2 weeks

Britain joined Australia on Wednesday in deciding to quarantine all passengers arriving from central China’s Hubei province for a full two weeks — believed to be the maximum incubation period of the deadly new coronavirus sweeping across China. At least 132 deaths have been blamed on the flu-like virus in China, mostly in the city of Wuhan in Hubei.

CBS News partner network BBC News said Health Secretary Matt Hancock had confirmed the quarantine plans as Britain planned to fly the first 200 nationals out of Wuhan on a chartered flight leaving Thursday. The BBC said they arrivals could be quarantined at a military base, but those details remained unconfirmed.

The decision by the British government came as some recent arrivals from Wuhan voiced concerns that they had not been quarantined after returning to the U.K. One man told BBC News on Wednesday that he flew back into England and was allowed to return home without ongoing health monitoring or any guidance to isolate himself.

Starbucks closes most China stores amid virus outbreak

Starbucks has closed more than half of its stores across China and all shops in the central province of Hubei amid the rapid spread of the deadly new coronavirus. The U.S. coffee retailer made the announcement on an earnings call with business analysts and reporters Tuesday, according to multiple news outlets.

The Reuters news agency quoted Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson as saying the coffee chain was responding to the virus “in a thoughtful and responsible way to protect our partners and support health officials and the government as they work to contain this public health risk.”

The closure of the stores was expected to hit Starbucks earnings; China is the company’s fastest growing market and it accounts for about 10% of its global revenue. The company’s shares dropped 1.6% in value off the back of the announcement. The coronavirus has had a broad impact on stock prices as the outbreak stokes investor fears.

Australia to quarantine citizens from Wuhan on remote island

Australia and New Zealand were to work together to evacuate their vulnerable citizens from China’s virus-hit Hubei province, and Australia said it would quarantine those people on a small island about 1,000 miles from its mainland for two weeks. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not say Wednesday how many or how soon citizens would be flown out of Hubei.

The evacuees were to spend 14 days at a quarantine center on Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean which has been used to hold asylum seekers and foreign criminals facing deportation. There was reportedly only one family of migrants being housed at the facility on the island, which was built to hold roughly 1,000.


Germany confirms 3 cases, plans evacuations from Wuhan

Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn responded Wednesday to the country’s first confirmed case of coronavirus by ordering hospitals to report any suspected cases of the deadly bug and German airlines to retain contact details of all passengers from China. The Foreign Ministry has warned Germans against all travel to the central Chinese province of Hubei. A German military aircraft was sent to Hubei to begin the voluntary evacuation of German nationals from Wuhan, and the government was considering sending an Airbus with medical equipment on board for further evacuations.

The first confirmed case on German soil was a 33-year-old employee at an auto parts supplier in Bavaria, believed to have been infected by a Chinese guest speaker from Wuhan at a training seminar. Three more workers at the same site have since been diagnosed with coronavirus.

“It was inevitable that the virus would reach Germany, but we are well prepared,” Spahn said. “We should all try and keep calm.”

– Anna Noryskiewicz  

British Airways halts all flights to and from mainland China

British Airways said Wednesday that it was immediately suspending all flights to and from mainland China after the U.K. government warned against unnecessary travel to the country amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“We apologize to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority,” BA said in a statement.

The airline operates daily flights from London’s Heathrow Airport to Shanghai and Beijing. It took the measure a day after Britain’s Foreign Office updated its travel advice on China, warning against “all but essential travel” to the mainland, not including Hong Kong and Macao.

Asian budget carriers Lion Air and Seoul Air were also suspending all flights to China as fears spread about the outbreak. Several other airlines including Finnair, Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific and Singapore-based Jetstar Asia were reducing the number of flights to the country as demand for travel drops.


U.S. evacuation flight’s destination changed from civilian airport

The plane that evacuated roughly 240 American nationals from the central Chinese city of Wuhan was rerouted by the federal government late Tuesday. The jet chartered by the State Department had been destined for Ontario International Airport in San Bernardino County, but an official there said late Tuesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had informed him it would be rerouted to the March Air Reserve Base in California’s Riverside County.

“We were prepared but the State Department decided to switch the flight” to the airbase, Curt Hagman, an Ontario airport commissioner, told The Associated Press.

A federal government spokesperson familiar with the plan told CBS News on Wednesday that the passengers on the flight would be screened for symptoms before and during the flight and would then be quarantined and observed for at least three days in California. Depending on results, those showing symptoms could be quarantined for as long as two weeks.

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