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Flight evacuating U.S. nationals from China amid coronavirus outbreak diverted to March Air Reserve Base

APTOPIX China Outbreak
Staff move bio-waste containers past the entrance of the Wuhan Medical Treatment Center last week in Wuhan, China.
(Associated Press)

A flight carrying government employees evacuated from the U.S. Consulate in the Chinese city of Wuhan amid a coronavirus outbreak will land at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County instead of Ontario International Airport, officials announced Tuesday night.

Curt Hagman, chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, said in a video news release that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told local officials that the flight will be diverted to the base “for the logistics that they have.”

Reached by phone Tuesday evening, Hagman said local officials weren’t given any additional details about the decision. Before reaching its destination in Southern California, the plane is expected to stop in Anchorage, Alaska to refuel, according to the CDC.

“It’s been very fluid, in terms of the last 36 to 48 hours of information,” Hagman said.

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Ontario International Airport is one of two repatriation airports on the West Coast, Hagman said, with the other in Oakland.

Because of that federal distinction, the airport has the responsibility — along with the infrastructure and planning capabilities — to respond in times of crisis, which can include handling large troop movements, or in this case, housing about 210 people between three days and two weeks, he said.

“We were prepared for the worst,” Hagman said.

Ontario International Airport preparing for flight from Wuhan
Several government and airport employees rushed to prepare Ontario International Airport to receive about 210 people flying from the U.S. Consulate in Wuhan, China, who were evacuated because of the coronavirus outbreak. The flight will instead land at March Air Reserve Base.
(Curt Hagman, San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors )

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Hagman said he heard from several people in his district who were concerned about the flight landing in Ontario.

Due to a lack of information and misinformation shared online there was a misunderstanding by some that the flight was a plane “full of sick people” rather than diplomats and their families who wanted to get out of harm’s way, he said.

“People are concerned — they wanted to make sure the government is protecting them,” Hagman said.

The outbreak, caused by a new coronavirus called 2019-nCoV, was first detected in Wuhan City in the Hubei Province in China, where there have been more than 4,500 confirmed cases of the virus and 106 deaths associated with the illness it causes, according to the World Health Organization.

The virus is not currently spreading in any community in the United States. The only confirmed cases thus far in the U.S., including one person in Los Angeles County and another in Orange County, involved people who contracted the virus outside the country, primarily in Wuhan, according to the CDC.

la-mapmaker-march-air-reserve-base01-28-2020-33-31-52.png
A flight evacuating U.S. nationals from the Chinese city of Wuhan was diverted to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County on Tuesday night.
(Jaclyn Cosgrove/L.A. Times)

Ontario International Airport officials said in a statement that the facility stood ready to “provide a safe and welcoming landing for American diplomats and U.S. citizens returning from China.”

“As the focus shifts to March Air Reserve Base, we offer our sincerest well wishes and gratitude to the Americans returning home,” the statement read.

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CDC officials said in a statement that federal agencies were working together to ensure the safe return of Americans while protecting the public’s health.

“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 in Riverside County, California; and then monitored for symptoms post-arrival,” the agency said in a statement Tuesday night.


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