- Nearly 200 US citizens were evacuated on Tuesday from Wuhan, China – the city where a coronavirus outbreak originated in December.
- The flight landed at a military base in Riverside, California, on Wednesday.
- One of the Americans “attempted to leave” the military base on Thursday, according to Riverside County health officials.
- All the passengers are now under federal quarantine for 14 days.
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US health officials have instated a federal quarantine for the 195 citizens who landed at the March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California, on Wednesday after evacuating Wuhan, China.
The passengers include state department employees who were working at the consulate in Wuhan, as well as their families. The youngest passenger on the flight was 1 month old.
Wuhan is the origin city of a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 213 people in China and infected more than 9,800 internationally.
“While we recognise this is an unprecedented action, we are facing an unprecedented threat,” Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Centre for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Friday when she announced the quarantine.
A day after the flight landed in the US, Riverside County health officials reported that one of the Americans who’d been onboard had “attempted to leave” the military base and was placed under individual quarantine.
“He or she did not take a step outside the base,” a county official said, adding that the passenger was not “trying to do anything sneaky … or anything out of the ordinary.”
Now, all of the passengers will be kept in isolation for 14 days – the time during which carriers of the virus can be infectious (also known as its incubation period). Officials at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said the action could prevent the spread of the virus and protect the passengers themselves.
“These are American citizens who clearly want to do the right thing,” Martin Cetron, director of the CDC’s Division of Global Migration and Quarantine, said on Friday. “They were exuberant and elated to be out of harm’s way.”
A novel coronavirus
The outbreak has spread to 22 countries outside of China: Australia, Cambodia, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, the UK, the US, and Vietnam.
The US reported its first case on January 21, when a man in his 30s was confirmed sick in Snohomish County, Washington. Since then, a woman in her 60s was confirmed sick in Chicago after travelling Wuhan in December. On Thursday, the CDC confirmed that the woman’s husband was also ill, marking the first case of human-to-human transmission of the virus in the US.
Three other US cases were confirmed on January 26: one in Los Angeles, California; one in Orange County, California; and one in Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes Phoenix.
The coronavirus family is a large group of viruses that typically affect the respiratory tract. Coronaviruses can lead to illnesses such as the common cold, pneumonia, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which resulted in 8,000 cases and 774 deaths in China from November 2002 to July 2003.
The US evacuees were screened for fever and evaluated for respiratory systems before they took off from Wuhan. One person had a fever and was not allowed to board, the CDC said during a news conference on Wednesday. Passengers were screened again after boarding the plane.
Passengers are now complying with the quarantine
The US flight stopped to refuel on Tuesday evening in Anchorage, Alaska, where passengers once more had their temperature taken and got evaluated by medical professionals. They were also questioned about whether they had been in close contact with any coronavirus patients, but none had, according to NBC News.
Then they received yet another evaluation when the plane landed in Riverside, where they were met on the tarmac by three buses and emergency vehicles.
“These passengers are happy to be back in the United States,” Messonnier said on Wednesday. “I heard that the people on board cheered loudly when the plane touched down safely in Anchorage.”
The passengers have been assigned to living quarters at the air reserve base. They’re all being tested for the virus, and the samples will be sent to the CDC.
Messonnier said not all of the test results are back yet. But the laboratory test for the virus can’t tell whether people have are infected before symptoms appear; the quarantine is meant to ensure that the passengers aren’t released before symptoms have time to develop.
“We do not believe that a negative result on this test means that somebody is not in danger of developing this disease,” Messonnier said.
If any of the evacuees start exhibiting any symptoms of the virus – like fever, coughing, runny noses, or trouble breathing – they will be sent to local hospital.
“We are preparing as if this were the next pandemic, but we’re hopeful still that this is not and will not be the case,” Messonnier said. “We would rather be remembered for overreacting than under-reacting.”
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