American evacuated from China quarantined at California base

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — One of the Americans evacuated from a Chinese city at the center of a new virus outbreak was quarantined after trying to leave a military base where the group is being monitored for signs of illness, California officials said Thursday.

The individual was one of 195 Americans held at the base and being watched for symptoms of the virus that has sickened thousands and killed more than 170 people. Most cases are in China, but the outbreak has spread to more than a dozen countries, and the World Health Organization declared a global emergency Thursday.

Officials in Riverside County ordered the person, who indicated a desire to leave March Air Reserve Base and tried to do so Wednesday night, quarantined for two weeks unless medically cleared sooner, said Jose Arballo Jr., a spokesman for the county's public health agency.

It can take up to 14 days for someone who is infected to develop symptoms, health officials believe. None of the Americans housed at base have shown symptoms of the virus since their arrival, Arballo said.

He did not identify the person and declined to provide details about how they tried to leave the base 60 miles (96 kilometers) east of Los Angeles.

The order was issued “as a result of the unknown risk to the public" because the person had not undergone a complete health evaluation, the agency said in a statement.

After the plane chartered by the U.S. government arrived at the base Wednesday with the evacuees from the Chinese city of Wuhan, federal officials dodged questions from reporters on whether people would be allowed to leave before a three-day testing and monitoring period was up.

They said only that officials would have “discussions” if any of them asked to leave the base before three days.

The U.S. on Thursday confirmed the country's first case of person-to-person spread of the virus. The man who got the virus is married to a Chicago woman in her 60s who got sick from the virus after she returned from a trip to Wuhan.

Other countries evacuating their citizens from China are taking a harder line than the U.S. to stop the virus from spreading back home. Britain, Germany, Spain, Japan, Singapore and others are quarantining people for up to 14 days.

Quarantines are used to separate and limit the movement of people exposed to an illness to see if they get sick. But their use has sparked controversy in the past, with critics arguing they should not be used unless medically justified because they limit individuals' freedom.

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