U.S. plans to evacuate citizens from coronavirus epicenter as deaths spike

The number of people known to have died from the new coronavirus in China jumped over 24 hours as U.S. officials prepared to evacuate Americans from the locked-down epicenter of the epidemic.

On Tuesday, the death toll stood at 106 — up from 80 a day earlier — according to officials at China’s National Health Commission.

The number of cases has also spiked to 4,515 — up from 2,744 on Monday — of which 976 are considered severe.

As Wuhan, the city where the outbreak is believed to have originated, remained on lockdown to contain the virus, the State Department said it was sending a chartered flight to take back U.S. government personnel stationed in the city.

A State Department official told NBC News that as space is available on the plane, seats will also be offered to some private U.S. citizens, with priority being given to those who are most at risk of contracting the virus if they remain in Wuhan.

The plane, bound for Ontario, California, is expected to leave Wuhan on Wednesday morning local time.

Officials in Alaska said the plane will also stop in Anchorage to refuel.

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said in a statement that everyone on board will be screened by Chinese and U.S. officials before leaving Wuhan, and no one with symptoms will be allowed to board. The passengers will also be re-screened once in Anchorage, the agency said.

On Tuesday, South Korea and Japan also said they will be sending charter flights to Wuhan to move their citizens out of the city. About 700 South Korean nationals are expected to be evacuated later this week. Japanese officials said they will send their first charter plane to Wuhan Tuesday night.

A number of other nations, including France, Australia and Spain, were also said to have been looking into moving their citizens out of Wuhan.

However, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it did not advocate the evacuation of foreign citizens currently in China, the country’s state news agency Xinhua reported Tuesday.

The WHO officials thanked the Chinese government for the “decisive measures” taken to stop the virus, adding that there was “no need to overreact,” according to Xinhua. The WHO said last week the virus was not yet a global health emergency.

Since the outbreak began, China has enforced strict transport restrictions and put more than a dozen cities, inhabited by millions of people, on lockdown.

At present, all provinces and regions in China are affected by the outbreak except the autonomous region of Tibet. As a precaution local authorities have announced that those wishing to enter Tibet will be automatically subjected to a 14-day quarantine.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted Monday that the U.S. is in very close communication with China concerning the virus.

“Very few cases reported in the U.S., but strongly on watch. We have offered China and President Xi Jinping any help that is necessary,” the president added.

Image: Security personnel wearing protective clothing to help stop the spread of a deadly SARS-like virus at the entrance of subway station in Beijing
Image: Security personnel wearing protective clothing to help stop the spread of a deadly SARS-like virus at the entrance of subway station in Beijing

The virus has now spread to four continents with new cases emerging outside China every day, including in the U.S. where five cases have been confirmed so far.

Thailand announced plans Tuesday to screen all arrivals from China for symptoms of the coronavirus and confirmed six more infections among such visitors, taking its tally to 14, Reuters reported.

Germany also became the second country in Europe to confirm a case of the coronavirus on Monday.