Wednesday, January 29, 2020

U.S. reroutes coronavirus evacuees to California military base

Jan. 29 (UPI) -- A U.S. government-chartered plane evacuating American citizens from the coronavirus-ravaged Hubei province in China landed at a military base so that passengers can be screened for the deadly disease and, if necessary, quarantined, officials said Wednesday.
The flight, with 210 American consulate staffers and private citizens on board, landed at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, Calif., around 11:00 a.m. EST, instead of its original destination, Ontario airport.
A team of CDC officers met the aircraft to assess the health of the passengers. All of the passengers have now been screened, monitored and evaluated before leaving China, and then again during the flight, during a refueling stop in Anchorage, Alaska, and then after arrival in California. The screenings include temperature checks and observation for respiratory symptoms.
In a statement, CDC officials said they are working with the California Department of Public Health and Riverside County Public Health to transport any passengers exhibiting symptoms to a hospital for further evaluation. Passenger not exhibiting symptoms of exposure will be asked to stay on the base in housing to allow medical officers to perform more thorough screenings.
The passengers had been trapped in the city of Wuhan, which the Chinese government effectively placed on lockdown last week.
Residents living near Ontario had expressed concerns over their safety after the U.S. State Department initially announced plans to use the airport for the charter flight. Officials decided to change the itinerary even though there have been no cases of human-to-human transmission of the 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019 n-CoV, reported in the United States to date.
"Our primary objective is to facilitate the safe return of these Americans while protecting the public's health," a joint statement released Tuesday night by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services and the State Department read.
The move by U.S. officials follows a similar decision in Britain, where officials announced Wednesday that British citizens in Wuhan would be evacuated from the city and likely kept in quarantine at a military facility. The exact location to be used was still to be determined as of this morning.
Also on Wednesday, Australia conducted a similar evacuation of more than 100 of its citizens from Wuhan, bringing them to Christmas Island, a territory off its coast that includes a national park, for evaluation and quarantine.
Governments are not the only entities making changes on the fly in response to 2019 n-CoV. So far, 16 airlines have suspended or canceled flights to or from China, including Air Canada, Air India, Air Seoul, Air Tanzania, American, Asiana, Austrian, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, IndiGo, JetStar, Lion Air, Lufthansa, Swiss International and United.
Apple, as part of its quarterly earnings announcement Tuesday, said it is restricting employee travel to and from China and temporarily closing one of its stores in the country. Meanwhile, the city of Palo Alto, Calif. has cancelled its upcoming Lunar New Year celebrations due to coronavirus concerns.
Facebook has instructed employees to suspend non-essential travel to mainland China and told staffers who had recently returned from the country to work from home for an undetermined period of time.
Investment firm Goldman Sachs has issued similar directives, while automaker Ford has banned travel to, from and inside China, asking employees who had traveled there to quarantine themselves for 14 days after returning.
Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson employees have been told they can only travel to China for "business critical situations" based on approval from senior leadership, according to reports. The company has also asked staff returning from Hubei to work from home, at least temporarily.
Japanese automaker Nissan is reportedly also evacuating employees from its Wuhan-based facilities.
Semesters at Sea, a U.S.-based non-profit that places hundreds of students in foreign countries for educational exchanges each year, announced earlier this week that it had decided to divert an excursion involving dozens of students from a planned port stop in Shanghai and, instead, extend the group's planned stay in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, by six days.
"The health and safety of our voyagers remains our first priority," the organization said in a statement. "Impacted students will receive additional information regarding the field class changes in the coming days. Additional field programs in Ho Chi Minh City may be added to what is currently offered and voyagers will be informed when we have updates to share."

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