The flight chartered by the State Department left the Chinese city of Wuhan and touched down late Tuesday night at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Alaska.
After refueling and passenger screenings in Anchorage, it left for the March Air Reserve Base near Riverside, California.
In Alaska, officials conducted two additional health screenings after prior ones in China. All passengers were approved to continue on to California by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alaska officials said. In California, they will get more health screenings.
“For many of us directly involved, this has been a moving and uplifting experience,” said Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer. “The whole plane erupted in cheers when the crew said, ‘Welcome home to the United States.'”
The fast-moving coronavirus has killed 132 people and infected nearly 6,000 others in China — most of them in the hardest-hit city of Wuhan. Five cases of the disease have been confirmed in the United States.
The flight was originally planned to land at the Ontario International Airport — a civilian facility about 35 miles from Los Angeles.
It’s not immediately clear why the itinerary was changed from the civilian airport to a military base. Curt Hagman, a San Bernardino County commissioner who is on the board of the Ontario airport, said they were informed Tuesday night that the plane would not land there.
Passengers will be screened at various stages
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said officials conducted screenings on 201 passengers. Before the flight arrived in Alaska, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had said there were about 210 U.S. citizens aboard the flight. It is not clear why the passenger counts from the state and federal agency differ.
The passengers also will go through a series of screenings after they land in California.
“These individuals will be screened before they take off; monitored during the duration of the flight by medical personnel on board; screened again on landing to refuel in Anchorage, Alaska; monitored on the last leg of the flight by medical personnel on board; evaluated upon arrival at March Air Reserve Base … and then monitored for symptoms post-arrival,” the CDC said.
Before the plane’s arrival itinerary was changed to a military airport, an official had told CNN the passengers may be forced to stay in isolation between three days and two weeks.
At the time, Hagman said authorities were setting up beds, phone chargers and televisions in an isolated, dormant hangar at Ontario International Airport.
It’s unclear whether the same procedure will be followed at the military base, which is in a different county.
Priority was given to U.S. citizens at risk
The passengers include U.S. diplomats and their families. The State Department had said American citizens could also board on a reimbursable basis if space was available.
While there are about 1,000 Americans living in Wuhan, priority was given to U.S. citizens who are “most at risk for contracting coronavirus” if they stay in the city, the State Department said.
It said it was unable to accommodate everyone due to space limitations, but it’s working to identify alternative routes for U.S. citizens to depart Wuhan by land.
The State Department issued a Level 4 advisory for Wuhan, meaning Americans should not travel to the city while the virus has an impact, Vice President Mike Pence said. It also ordered personnel working at the U.S. Consulate in Wuhan to depart for the United States.
Other countries including South Korea and Japan are also sending charters to evacuate citizens from the epicenter of the outbreak. The European Commission said it was sending two aircraft to evacuate European Union citizens out of Wuhan.
Meanwhile, in the most drastic action yet by a major airline as the deadly coronavirus spreads, British Airways has suspended flights between the United Kingdom and China.
The UK’s Foreign Office warned people against traveling to mainland China in all but essential cases.
This map tracks the coronavirus in real time
The number of novel coronavirus cases is changing quickly. A real-time tracking map shows us just how quickly.
The dashboard collects data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and European and Chinese health agencies to populate a worldwide view of coronavirus cases in real time.
The clickable map pinpoints cities and regions where patients have been diagnosed with coronavirus — the more cases in a region, the larger its dot on the map (right now, the largest dot belongs to the Hubei Province, where the outbreak originated).
The map tracks deaths, too, in total and by city.
Lauren Gardner, director of the Center for Systems Science and Engineering and a civil engineering professor at Johns Hopkins, said the map isn’t just a resource for the public — health officials can download the data, which will inform research on the coronavirus in the future.
“We built this dashboard because we think it is important for the public to have an understanding of the outbreak situation as it unfolds with transparent data sources,” she said. “For the research community, this data will become more valuable as we continue to collect it over time.”
The dashboard also puts the outbreak into perspective: There are already more than 6,000 confirmed cases in mainland China and fewer than 100 everywhere else in the world.
The CDC regularly updates its map of confirmed coronavirus cases, too, though it shows cases by country rather than by region or city.