The operation comes as the death toll from a newly identified coronavirus that originated in Wuhan climbs above 40 and the number of confirmed infections tops 1,200, with many of the cases in and around the central Chinese city of 11 million people.
The fast spread of the disease in recent days across China and around the world, including two cases in the U.S., has raised fears of a deadly contagion.
Roughly 1,000 American citizens are thought to be in Wuhan, and the U.S. consulate there is reaching out to the ones it knows about to offer them a seat on the plane, the person familiar with the matter said.
The plane seats around 230 people, and will include diplomats from the U.S. consulate as well as Americans and their families. Those evacuated will be responsible for the cost, the person added.
The U.S. government won approval for the operation from China’s Foreign Ministry and other government agencies following negotiations in recent days, this person said.
© hector retamal/Agence France-Presse/Getty ImagesThe U.S. Embassy in Beijing and China’s Foreign Ministry couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Saturday, the first day of China’s Lunar New Year holiday.
The Boeing 767 jet will have U.S. medical personnel aboard to ensure that anyone affected by the newly identified and little-understood coronavirus is cared for and doesn’t spread it, this person said.
In addition to U.S. diplomatic officers based in Wuhan, any available seats may be offered to non-U.S. citizens, including diplomats of other nations, this person said, adding that the U.S. plans to temporarily shut its Wuhan consulate.
It couldn’t be learned where in the U.S. the plane would fly to.
Other governments are negotiating with Chinese authorities to arrange flights modeled on China’s agreement with the U.S., the person said.
U.S. evacuation operations of this nature have become relatively routine in some parts of the world after natural disasters and political disturbances, but the one planned Sunday appears to be unprecedented for China. The person said U.S. officials considered busing Americans from Wuhan to another city, such as Shanghai, if a flight couldn’t be arranged.