‘They want to make sure that they are protecting themselves and their communities,’ US health official says

Further testing on those brought to US from Wuhan will take up to three days

Preliminary tests show that the 195 Americans brought back to the United States on Wednesday from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, are all free of the illness, but they are voluntarily remaining at a California military base for further evaluation, US health officials said.

In a telephone briefing on Wednesday, Nancy Messonnier of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said officials’ earlier assertion that the tests could take up to three days was not a “fixed timeline” but was meant to give the CDC enough wiggle room to “do all the things we need to do”.

Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Centre for Immunisation and Respiratory Diseases, also clarified that the number of passengers on a US government-chartered plane that landed in the March Air Reserve Base in California on Wednesday – after a refuelling stop in Anchorage, Alaska – was 195, and not 201 as earlier reported by her agency.

Pressed on whether the 195 passengers were staying on their own volition, Messonnier said all had made clear that “they want to make sure that they are protecting themselves and their communities”.

She said that the CDC was being “appropriately cautious” because of the novelty of the Wuhan virus – officially known as the 2019-nCOV – and that the measures were similar to what has been undertaken to other so-called “patients under investigation” in the US.

“I would call it an appropriate degree of caution for a new disease,” she said. “As we learn more about the disease from investigations here in the United States as well as around the world our procedures may change, but right now we are taking what we consider to be an appropriately cautious approach.”

Messonnier also said the CDC expected to be part of a World Health Organisation (WHO) expert group that will be sent to Beijing to assist in epidemiological work there “as soon as possible”.

“We will provide an update on the team’s departure as well as their activities when more information becomes available,” she said. “The information that I have right now is that we are invited to be part of this WHO commission and that we are working with WHO to the particulars of that team.”

In a news conference on Tuesday about the US response to the outbreak, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said his department was waiting for a response from the Chinese government to the request to form a bilateral team, or to accept a team of US experts working under the authority of the WHO.

Five Americans have been diagnosed with the Wuhan virus. The worldwide number of confirmed cases has risen to more than 7,100, with the vast majority in mainland China.

Most of the 170 deaths have been in Hubei province, where the outbreak originated.

Hubei’s capital, Wuhan, which was put under a travel ban last week, is a major high-speed rail and air transit hub.

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