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Americans evacuated from China screened for coronavirus, quarantined

The CDC said all 195 people flown from China to the United States have been screened for the virus and will voluntarily remain at March Air Reserve Base for further evaluation.

80 people are dead and more than 2,700 cases have been confirmed in China, as the Wuhan coronavirus continues to spread throughout Asia and the rest of the world. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
80 people are dead and more than 2,700 cases have been confirmed in China, as the Wuhan coronavirus continues to spread throughout Asia and the rest of the world. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 29 (UPI) -- All 195 people flown on a U.S. government-chartered plane from Hubei province in China have been screened for coronavirus and will remain at March Air Reserve Base for three days, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

The flight landed at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, Calif., around 11:00 a.m. EST, instead of its original destination, Ontario airport.

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A team of 20 CDC officers met the aircraft to assess the health of the passengers. All of the passengers were 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.

Those flown from China have voluntarily agreed to stay at the base for three days for further evaluation and risk assessment, the CDC said, with those found to be at low risk for infection possibly permitted to leave early.

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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.

"None have symptoms so far, all have been given assigned living quarters at the base and all have agreed to remain there voluntarily," said Nancy Messonnier, director of the Center for the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

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The passengers had been trapped in the city of Wuhan, which the Chinese government effectively placed on lockdown last week.

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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.

"Expect more cases," Messonnier added. "Maybe travelers from Hubei or people who have had close contact with the five already confirmed cases."

The CDC currently has 165 people under investigation for possible infection, with 68 testing negative so far and the remainder either in transit to the CDC lab or still being tested.

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The agency has also been invited to send experts to China as part of the World Health Organization team investigating the outbreak, Messonnier said.

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.

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Also on Wednesday, Australia unveiled a similar evacuation plan to fly its citizens from Wuhan to Christmas Island, a territory off its coast that includes a national park, for evaluation and quarantine.

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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.

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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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