Americans evacuated from virus-hit China arrive in California as death toll rises to 170

The plane stopped in Alaska on its way from Wuhan, China, the center of the coronavirus outbreak, to California. None showed signs of illness..

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By Phil Helsel and Yuliya Talmazan

A chartered plane carrying U.S. consulate personnel and citizens from an area of China at the center of a coronavirus outbreak landed in Anchorage, Alaska, Tuesday night and then proceeded to California, where passengers will be tested, officials said.

Health officials in Alaska had said all 201 passengers continued on to the plane's final destination in California after having undergone health screening in Anchorage.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later clarified that there were 195 evacuees, as well as the pilot, crew and medical personnel on the plane. There were no signs of illness among those passengers, public health officials said.

"All passengers had already been through two screenings in China and were monitored during the flight," the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said in a statement. "In Anchorage, all passengers were screened twice more and approved to continue on to California by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)."

Full coverage of the coronavirus outbreak

Cases continued to grow Wednesday in China, where health authorities said there have been 170 deaths and 7,711 confirmed cases, up from 132 deaths and 5,974 confirmed cases at the end of Tuesday.

The plane carrying the Americans left the airport in Anchorage, where officials said it was at a terminal in an area with no public access, and then flew to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, California, which is east of Los Angeles.

Passengers will remain at the base for 72 hours and undergo a diagnostic test for the virus. They are not under a forced federal quarantine but are expected to follow CDC guidance to remain on base.

Alaska's chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said at a news conference Wednesday morning that authorities were prepared to handle 240 passengers, the maximum the plane could hold.

The plane's crew was isolated from the passengers and had no interactions with them during the flight. They also never got off in China, and "the CDC felt they were at zero risk," Zink said.

Staff who handled the passengers in Anchorage also took maximum precaution, wearing face masks, gloves and had minimal interaction with the passengers.

Asked about the risk of bringing in people who could potentially harbor the virus, Zink said the plane would not land in Alaska if officials believed it would jeopardize public safety.

Airport manager Jim Szczesniak said there was no concern for regular domestic passengers arriving Wednesday.

"We want to make sure that the public knows this was successfully done in our north terminal — in a segregated area, not anywhere near our domestic terminal."

Szczesniak said he was not aware of any more planes scheduled to fly through Alaska from Wuhan.

The plane was seen landing at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage around 9:30 p.m., and it appeared from video that some of those on the ground were wearing protective suits, gloves and masks.

The State Department said Tuesday that the charter plane from Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, left with staff from the U.S. consulate, as well as private American citizens.

The plane had been scheduled to arrive at the airport in the city of Ontario, California, which was designated by the federal government as the official repatriation center for California about a decade ago, San Bernardino County officials said.

But officials in Ontario, east of Los Angeles, said in a statement Tuesday that they were informed by the CDC the plane would be diverted to March Air Reserve Base in adjoining Riverside County.

The news comes as British Airways said it was stopping all flights to China. "We have suspended all flights to and from mainland China with immediate effect following advice from the Foreign Office against all but essential travel," it said in an emailed statement.

"We apologise to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority."

The deadly coronavirus is known as 2019-nCoV, or novel coronavirus.

In addition to the cases in China, there are at least 68 confirmed cases in 15 countries, according to a World Health Organization status report Wednesday.

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Five people in the U.S. have tested positive for the virus, according to the CDC. All of them had traveled from Wuhan and are now in isolation. The CDC says the immediate risk in the U.S. is low.