U.S. consulate staffers and other Americans in Wuhan will be evacuated to California on Wednesday as the death toll rose to 106 from a new virus racing through China.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million in central China, is the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. The city is one of more than a dozen under tight lockdown as the government struggles to contain the virus.
The State Department said some private, paying U.S. citizens would be added to the charter flight leaving Wuhan Tianhe International Airport bound for Ontario, California.
“This capacity is extremely limited and if there is insufficient ability to transport everyone who expresses interest, priority will be given to individuals at greater risk from coronavirus,” the department said in a statement.
About 1,000 Americans are believed to be in Wuhan, although not all want to leave. Some are married to Chinese nationals, who are not eligible for the flight that is scheduled to carry about 240 passengers and crew.
The flight will refuel in Anchorage, Alaska, and the state’s Health Department said all will face health screenings before boarding. Those who appear ill will be denied boarding.
Passengers then will be screened “numerous times” during the flight and again in Alaska before continuing on to California, the department said in a statement.
France and England are among other nations organizing or considering evacuation flights for their citizens.
A pilot’s perspective on coronavirus:Should you wear a surgical mask?
Death toll rises to over 100
The new coronavirus has sickened more than 4,500 people across the country and 106 people have died. China’s National Health Commission said more than 1,700 cases and 26 deaths were reported Tuesday alone, including the first death in Beijing.
More than 70 cases have been confirmed outside China, including five in the U.S. None of those patients have died.
Nancy Messonnier, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said 110 people in the U.S. are “under investigation” for the virus but added that human-to-human transmission of the virus has not been documented in the U.S.
There is no vaccine, although drugmakers are scrambling to create one.
Gates Foundation gives $10 million to fight virus
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced that it is immediately committing $10 million in emergency funds and “corresponding technical support” to help first responders in China and Africa accelerate their efforts to contain the global spread. The foundation said it is already working with a Chinese public and private sector partners to accelerate national and international cooperation in efforts to identify and confirm cases, safely isolate and care for patients, and accelerate the development of treatments and vaccines.
‘Everything now is experimental.’ Here’s how doctors are treating coronavirus
Hong Kong cuts rail links to mainland
Hong Kong has confirmed eight cases. Chief Executive Carrie Lam, during a news conference in which she and her staff wore surgical masks, said Tuesday that train service to the mainland will be halted and flights and bus service drastically reduced.
Lam was also forced to drop a plan to use two empty public housing blocks as a quarantine site for coronavirus patients after protesters clashed with police and set fire to the buildings.
US expands China travel advisory
On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the State Department expanded their travel advisories to cover all of China due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The CDC issued a Level 3 travel warning, its highest level, recommending travelers avoid all nonessential travel to China. Previously only Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, was at a Level 3. The rest of China was rated Level 2, which recommends “practice enhanced precautions.”
The broader travel alerts come as the U.S. plans to expand screening for the virus to 20 airports from the current five.
Coronaviruses look like crowns
Coronaviruses get their name from their appearance under a microscope – they look something like a crown, a sphere with spikes jutting out. They are part of a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to pneumonia. The best way to treat symptoms is to take pain and fever medications, use a room humidifier or take a hot shower to help ease a sore throat and cough, drink plenty of liquids, and rest, the CDC says. This one is new, hence there is no vaccine and concern that it could prove difficult to control.
Contributing: Dawn Gilbertson