More than 200 Americans fleeing the deadly coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan were headed to California on Wednesday after a stopover in Alaska as the death toll in China jumped to 132.
The Alaska Health Department said screenings have been completed on the 201 passengers from Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak, who were aboard a flight that stopped at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage to refuel.
All passengers had already been through two screenings in China and were monitored during the flight, health department spokesman Clinton Bennett said. In Anchorage, all passengers were screened twice more and approved to continue on to California by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In California, they will undergo additional health screenings and finish the repatriation process, Bennett said. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said the passengers were excited to be back on American soil.
“For many of us directly involved, this has been a moving and uplifting experience,” Zink said. “The whole plane erupted in cheers when the crew said, ‘Welcome home to the United States.'”
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Health officials in California are working with the CDC to prepare for the passengers to arrive in California. Bennett said they will be re-screened and “temporarily housed for a period of time.” He did not say how long the quarantine would last.
The flight was chartered by the State Department to return a few dozen Wuhan consulate workers to the U.S. Most of the passengers are Americans living in Wuhan who paid their way to get out.
The flight is scheduled to land at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. The State Department said it was working with Chinese officials to evacuate other Americans in and around Wuhan who want to leave.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million in the central China province of Hubei, is one of more than a dozen under tight lockdown as the government struggles to contain the virus. The number of confirmed infections across China rose to almost 6,000 on Wednesday. Scores of cases have been confirmed in more than a dozen other nations, including five cases in the U.S.
Coronaviruses get their name from their appearance under a microscope – they look something like a crown, a sphere with spikes jutting out. A global scientific hunt for a vaccine is underway – a Hong Kong scientist says researchers there have developed one but warned that testing could take “a long time.”