The U.S. government is preparing a way to get its citizens out of the coronavirus epicenter in the Chinese city of Wuhan as soon as possible, according to a new Wall Street Journal report.
Wuhan, which saw the initial outbreak of the new coronavirus, has been placed in a state of quarantine by the Chinese government. Unnamed sources familiar with the effort told Wall Street Journal reporters that the U.S. government negotiated with China’s Foreign Ministry for the ability to charter a plane for those U.S. citizens, despite the ongoing travel restrictions.
The flight is reportedly expected to depart on Sunday, though scheduling issues have added some uncertainty to exactly when the plane will take off.
The plane being prepared to fly those U.S. citizens out is a Boeing 767 and has seating for about 230 people. U.S. diplomats and their families in the area are expected on the flight.
Around 1,000 U.S. citizens reportedly remain in Wuhan at this time and the U.S. consulate in the city is reportedly working to track down other U.S. citizens and offer them a seat on the flight out. It is not clear what will happen to the remaining citizens who cannot find a seat on the flight.
In additional to those U.S. citizens being evacuated, seats may also be offered to non-citizens, including diplomats of other countries.
“There are a lot of unknowns,” Lilly Alice Yuan told Wall Street Journal reporters.
Yuan is one U.S. citizen who got caught in Wuhan as the quarantine notice began. She now hopes to get one of the seats on the evacuation flight.
Those evacuated will reportedly be responsible for the cost of the flight.
The plane will also reportedly have medical staff on board to identify and separate possible carriers of the virus from other healthy passengers.
The U.S. State Department has already issued a travel warning for all of China, which it lists with a Level 2 travel advisory. That specific advisory urges U.S. travellers to exercise caution.
The U.S. consulate in Wuhan issued a more strict warning, at a Level 4 advisory, urging people not to travel to the Hubei province of China altogether. Wuhan is the capital of the Hubei province.
“The U.S. government has limited ability to provide emergency services to U.S. citizens in Hubei province,” the State Department advisory says. “Chinese authorities have imposed strict travel restrictions in the area around Wuhan. Travelers should be aware that the Chinese government could prevent them from entering or exiting parts of Hubei province. Travelers should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice.”
China has already locked down 17 cities in the Hubei province, encompassing some 56 million people in its latest travel restrictions.