For the first time in a half-century, U.S. health officials have issued a federal quarantine order, compelling all 195 Americans evacuated from China to remain at an air base in California for 14 days.
A flight carrying the Americans arrived Wednesday in Riverside, California, where they had purportedly agreed to remain at March Air Reserve base for monitoring for the deadly coronavirus, which erupted in Wuhan, China, in December.
The quarantine, implemented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was announced Friday following a report that an unidentified person tried to leave the base despite being ordered to stay confined until cleared by the Riverside County Public Health Department.
The incubation period for coronavirus is two weeks. Officials said on Thursday that the individuals had agreed to stay on the base voluntarily.
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It was the first time a federal quarantine has been ordered since the 1960s, when one was issued over a concern about potential spread of smallpox, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We are preparing as this is the next pandemic, but hopeful this is not and will not be the case,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters Friday. “We would rather be remembered for overreacting to under-reacting.”
At least 213 people in China have died from it since the virus erupted in the city of Wuhan. The latest cases added to the 98 cases already reported from 18 other countries. Almost 10,000 people have contracted the illness worldwide.
“The current scenario is a cause for concern,” Messonnier said.
Britain and Russia on Friday reported their first cases of the deadly coronavirus that has spread from China to at least 20 countries and claimed more than 200 lives.
In Britain, the two cases involved members of the same family who tested positive for the virus.
Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, said in a statement that Britain’s National Health Service had “robust infection control measures in place to respond immediately” to the outbreak.
“The N.H.S. is extremely well prepared and used to managing infections,” Whitty said. “We are already working rapidly to identify any contacts the patients had, to prevent further spread.”
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Health authorities declined to provide any detail on the condition of the two Britons and did not indicate whether they had recently traveled to China.
A charter passenger jet brought back 83 British nationals from Wuhan on Friday.
In Russia, two Chinese nationals were diagnosed with the virus and placed in isolation.
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Anna Popova, head of Russia’s public health agency Rospotrebnadzor, said the pair have not been in contact with anyone and there is no risk of the virus spreading further.
The Emergency Committee of the World Health Organization, a U.N. agency, declared a global health emergency on Thursday, focusing primarily on the spread of the virus outside China.
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Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking in Geneva, said China had taken extraordinary steps to try to contain the virus and that the committee was most concerned about its impact in countries with weaker health systems.
Although the number of coronavirus cases is larger than for the SARS epidemic that broke out in 2003 and spread to more than two dozen countries, the mortality rate is far less.
The latest figures show a death rate for coronavirus patients of 2%, 10% for SARS and 70% for the Ebola virus that has repeatedly ravaged sub-Saharan Africa.
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Russia, Singapore tighten borders
As the coronavirus spreads, several countries have been tightening their borders and controlling the flow of visitors.
Russia closed its land border with China on Thursday and suspended most train traffic between the countries.
Singapore announced that it will bar all visitors from China starting on Saturday and will bar all Chinese travelers who have visited China in the past two weeks.
Meanwhile, China was arranging special flights to help Wuhan residents return home from holidays abroad. Some waiting for a flight leaving Bangkok said they wanted to return to take care of their loved ones.
The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said on Friday it was authorizing the departure of family members and all non-emergency U.S. government employees from Beijing and the consulates in four cities.
The State Department also issued its highest grade “Do Not Travel” advisory warning for visits to China.
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Japan and Germany have also advised against non-essential travel and Britain did as well, except for Hong Kong and Macao.
Contributing: Associated Press