Plane carrying US evacuees from China amid coronavirus outbreak diverted to California air base

A plane carrying about 201 U.S. citizens evacuated from Wuhan, China – the epicenter of the deadly coronavirus – landed in the U.S. on Tuesday night to refuel in Alaska before it took off for California. The plane is en route to California’s March Air Reserve Base “for the logistics that they have,” an official said.

The Boeing 747 with red and gold stripes and no passenger windows was initially headed to Ontario International Airport in California. It landed in Alaska at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport on Tuesday night, was refueled, and took off for California. Every passenger passed the screenings.

“The whole plane erupted in cheers when the crew said, ‘Welcome home to the United States,’" Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said.

The individuals on board the flight were screened before take off, monitored during the flight by medical personnel and screened again when the plane landed in Anchorage.

"[The passengers would be] 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added.

Curt Hagman, the chairman of the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors – where the Ontario Airport is located – and a commissioner at the airport, said on social media that the CDC had informed him of its decision to divert the flight to the air base.

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"Ontario International is one of the repatriation airports for the west coast and we are always prepared to receive our citizens abroad in times of emergencies," Hagman said in a video posted to his YouTube channel. "We were prepared but the state department decided to switch the flight to March Air Force Base for logistics that they have."

Hagman told the Los Angeles Times that he was given no other details about the flight.

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

He added that people in his San Bernardino, Calif., district had voiced their concerns over the flight landing at Ontario International Airport.

Ontario International Airport was set to receive about 210 people evacuated from the U.S. Consulate in Wuhan, an official said.

Ontario International Airport was set to receive about 210 people evacuated from the U.S. Consulate in Wuhan, an official said. (Curt Hagman, San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors)

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

The aircraft had reportedly been chartered by the American government to fly out diplomats from the U.S. Consulate in Wuhan, as well as other citizens.

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San Bernandino County was initially picked to serve as the repatriation point for roughly 240 U.S. citizens arriving from Wuhan, officials said.

"The Department of State has the lead for the safe and expedient ordered departure of US citizens. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are collaborating with the Department of State on the logistics of public health evaluations for every traveler on the flight. HHS and CDC are working with partners to ensure that any traveler who develops symptoms during their journey receives appropriate medical care."

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The lobby in the international terminal of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport was nearly empty Tuesday afternoon, and an airport employee was seen jogging through though the facility that has closed counters for companies like Korean Air, China Airlines and Asiana Airlines.

Because the terminal is only active in the summer, it allows the airport to practice situations such as this one.

"In the wintertime, we have the ability and the luxury of not having any passenger traffic over there, so it's a perfect area for us to handle this kind of flight," said Jim Szczesniak, manager of the airport.

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Meanwhile, Ontario International Airport appreciated "the support and understanding" during "this sensitive operation."

"As the focus shifts to March Air Reserve Base, we offer our sincerest well wishes and gratitude to the Americans returning home," the airport said.

Ontario International Airport was designated about a decade ago by the U.S. government to receive repatriated Americans in case of an emergency overseas but it would have been the first time the facility was used for the purpose, David Wert, spokesman for the county of San Bernardino said.

On Wednesday, the United Arab Emirates confirmed the first cases of the virus in the Middle East, saying doctors now were treating a family that had just come from a city in Wuhan.

The country's WAM news agency made the announcement, citing the Health and Prevention Ministry. It offered no details on where the stricken family lived nor where they were receiving treatment. It also did not offer a number of those afflicted by the virus.

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China has cut off access to Wuhan and 16 other cities in Hubei province to prevent people from leaving and spreading the virus further, whose symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath or pneumonia in some cases. The U.S., Japan, and South Korea all have planned evacuations.

Passengers wear masks to prevent an outbreak of a new coronavirus in a subway station, in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The first case of coronavirus in Macao was confirmed on Wednesday, according to state broadcaster CCTV. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

Passengers wear masks to prevent an outbreak of a new coronavirus in a subway station, in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020. The first case of coronavirus in Macao was confirmed on Wednesday, according to state broadcaster CCTV. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) (AP)

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The U.S. State Department didn't immediately respond to Fox News' request to comment on why the decision was made.

Fox News' Edmund DeMarche, Nick Givas and the Associated Press contributed to the report