China has reported more than 630 coronavirus deaths, including one in Hong Kong, and one person has died in the Philippines.
Foreigners on Thursday continued to be evacuated from China’s Hubei province, where the outbreak began, with many travelers entering quarantines when they arrived in their home countries. China, meanwhile, imposed penalties on tech platforms that published what it called “illicit” content about the outbreak that could cause citizens to panic.
Here’s what else we know:
● Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, who became a symbol of the Chinese government's failings after sounding warnings about the disease in December, died Thursday after contracting the virus in Wuhan.
● The Defense Department approved 11 military installations to potentially house quarantined U.S. travelers if the Department of Health and Human Services does not have enough space.
● Two U.S. planes with about 300 passengers departed Wuhan on Thursday night. The flights were expected to be the last ones chartered by the U.S. government to evacuate Americans and their families from the center of the outbreak.
● Experts in Hong Kong have declared a community outbreak in the city, with the coronavirus spreading on its own without people coming from the mainland.
● The Anti-Defamation League, an organization that opposes anti-Semitism and other forms of hate, said that extremists were weaponizing the coronavirus outbreak to spread conspiracy theories.
9:00 PM: Passengers evacuated on 2 U.S. planes from Wuhan, monitored from 7,500 miles away
WASHINGTON — Two U.S. planes carrying about 300 passengers flew out of Wuhan on Thursday night and were expected to arrive in the United States on Friday morning.
Most of the passengers were Americans, but among the evacuees were 60 Canadians who were given seats on the U.S. charter flights at the request of the Canadian foreign minister. These are expected to be the last flights chartered by the U.S. government to get Americans and their families out of the epicenter of the coronavirus oubreak.
In the operations center of the State Department, where the flights were being monitored, cheers erupted around the glass-top conference table at 6:40 p.m. Washington time when the day’s first flight took off and a woman monitoring its progress shouted out, “Wheels up!”
The second flight took off at 7:18 p.m. in Washington, which is 13 hours behind Wuhan. State Department officials declined to specify which U.S. airports would receive the flights, but said the trips were expected to last about 12 hours.
The evacuations have been organized and monitored by a task force that brought together staff from the State Department, Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The task force includes specialists from the State Department’s China desk, Consular Affairs and Diplomatic Security. It also included medical workers from the State Department’s Operations Medicine staff, who specialize in crisis medicine such as a large-scale evacuation.
About a dozen people gathered around the large conference table, each sitting before a computer screen and a phone that connected them with U.S. Embassy and consulate staff on the ground in China, flight trackers, and medical experts who were aboard the planes to conduct medical screenings in flight and isolate ailing passengers if necessary.
By: Carol Morello