The chartered flights carrying US citizens from Wuhan, China, this week are likely to be the last.
Two flights out of Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, landed Wednesday morning in California, bringing the number of such flights arriving in the US since January 29 to three.
Another two flights from Wuhan are scheduled to come later this week — one headed to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas; the other going to Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Nebraska, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Washington has offered a few dozen of its seats on an evacuation flight to Canadians.
The US State Department does not anticipate chartering any flights after this week, a State Department official said Tuesday.
There are now 12 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States.
Two flights landed Wednesday: ‘We are very grateful for the ride home’
Two flights — carrying a total of about 350 passengers, according to the US Defense Department — landed Wednesday morning at Travis Air Force Base, located between San Francisco and Sacramento.
About 178 passengers from one plane are staying at Travis. The other plane refueled before taking its passengers to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego later in the morning.
The passengers at both locations will be under a 14-day quarantine managed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col Chris Mitchell said.
Video recorded by passenger Frank Hannum showed what it was like in one of the planes that landed Wednesday.
Passengers sat in the cabin, wearing masks, as some State Department staff and health workers walked around the plane or stood, donning protective gear — some of them nearly head to toe.
In the background, a large sheet of plastic separated the area where these passengers were sitting from the rest of the plane.
Someone at the front of section, using a megaphone, made an announcement about what would happen when the plane landed at Travis Air Force Base, including details about the two week quarantine.
Hannum told CNN he was “very grateful for the ride home from the US government,” as Wuhan, a city of about 11 million people, had been virtually shut down for two weeks, with normal commercial flights stopped.
“In addition, all roads in Hubei province have been blocked. People cannot drive, and after two weeks of lockdown, are running out of food and necessities,” he said.
At Travis Air Force Base, people under quarantine will stay at the base’s Westwind Inn, the military said Wednesday. One child with a fever has been transferred to a health care facility, Dr. Henry Walke with the CDC said. Children get fevers for multiple reasons, he said.
These flights come about a week after the first US government-arranged flight left Wuhan. That first chartered plane, carrying nearly 200 US citizens — including diplomats and their families — arrived January 29 at March Air Reserve Base in Southern California, where they also are under a 14-day quarantine.
Four people had a fever or a cough and were taken to hospitals for more tests.
About 1,000 Americans live in Wuhan, and priority on chartered flights was given to US citizens who are “most at risk for contracting coronavirus” if they stay in the city, the State Department has said.
A woman’s anxious trip back to the US started with an eerie taxi ride
Two of the passengers who arrived back in the US Wednesday were Priscilla Dickey and her 8-year-old daughter Hermione. Video from their trip shows how much of a ghost town the metropolis of Wuhan has become, how people are taking precautions.
When she hired a taxi to take them to the Wuhan airport a few days ago, the driver showed up in a blue protective suit.
Video she recorded from inside the car showed the Wuhan streets nearly empty — the taxi had a clear path to the airport.
At the airport, almost everyone who greeted them — airport staff, US Embassy officials — were in protective suits.
She and other would-be passengers went through health screenings, and then waited hours to board.
“I’m just realizing the scope of the situation I’m in,” Dickey said in a video she recorded at the airport, before she boarded her flight.
Father waits to reunite with wife and children
San Diego resident Ken Burnett said his wife and two young children are believed to have been on one of the flights that landed in California on Wednesday.
The three were holed up in a high-rise apartment for about two weeks in Wuhan, which was virtually shut down because of the outbreak. Burnett, waiting for them in the United States, said the family struggled for information and assistance from officials to get seats on the plane.
“We feel frustrated with that process,” Burnett told CNN. “But in the end, we just want our family safe, however that has to be done.”
“Until I know they are here, that’s when I really will celebrate.”
There have been more than 28,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide — the vast majority in China — with a death toll of at least 565.
Everyone aboard the chartered flights were screened for symptoms before they departed and will subjected to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention screenings and requirements for monitoring, the State Department official said.
US citizens returning from China on commercial flights are being rerouted to airports that can handle extra health screenings, and passengers may be subject to quarantine, according to new federal rules that went into effect Sunday.
Beijing has criticized the United States’ response to the coronavirus outbreak, including temporarily denying foreign nationals entry to the US if they had been in China in the previous 14 days.