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US to Evacuate 'Limited' Number of Americans from Wuhan

Journalists wearing face masks attend an official press conference about a virus outbreak at the State Council Information Office in Beijing, Jan. 26, 2020.

Private American citizens living and working in Wuhan are being warned there will not be room for many of them on an evacuation flight being prepared for U.S. consular staff in the epicenter of the Coronavirus epidemic.

"The Department of State is making arrangements to relocate its personnel stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Wuhan to the United States," the U.S. Embassy in Beijing wrote on Sunday, adding that the flight will travel directly from Wuhan to San Francisco.

"This capacity is extremely limited and if there is insufficient ability to transport everyone who expresses interest, priority will be given to individuals at greater risk from coronavirus," a statement said.

An American citizen teaching at a university in Wuhan, who asked that her name not be used for fear of Chinese retribution, told VOA that neither the consulate nor the U.S. Embassy in Beijing has yet contacted most American citizens in the city.

"Maybe they have reached out to a few privileged individuals, but on the whole, they are not reaching out to average American citizens. We have received almost no support and no help," the woman told VOA's Mandarin Service.

An announcement on the U.S. Embassy's website directs citizens to apply for a seat on the plane by contacting American Citizen Services with their passport information.

"There are thousands of us Americans in Wuhan," the American citizen said. "A 747 seats like 250 people, they're not going to take everyone out. Even if every single person wanted to leave, they would not take all of us," she said, referring to the Boeing 747 jet that will likely be chartered for the flight.

The announcement comes amid travel restrictions around the wider region, but especially in the city of Wuhan. The streets have been largely quiet amid ambiguous regulations on which vehicles can and cannot be on the road, even in urban areas.

Some Wuhan residents have reported that early in the outbreak, individuals were arrested and accused of spreading "rumors" about the disease on social media. The American teacher said that in addition to the restrictions on her travel, the disinformation and fear of authority in Wuhan have added to the stress produced by the outbreak.

"This is the craziest experience I've ever lived through in my entire life. I wish it weren't happening. It's it's a nightmare," she said.

The disease, which has killed 56 people and sickened almost 2,000 around the world, has spread to about 15 countries, including France, Canada and the United States, where a third confirmed case was reported in southern California late Saturday.

The World Health Organization said Thursday the potentially deadly virus has not yet developed into a worldwide health emergency.