State Department lets non-emergency employees leave embassy in Beijing as coronavirus spreads

NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA – JANUARY 30, 2020: A Rospotrebnadzor (Russian Federal Service for Consumer Protection and Welfare Supervision) official uses thermal imaging devices to remotely measure temperature of passengers arriving at Novosibirsk International Airport from Sanya, China, in connection with the outbreak of a pneumonia-like coronavirus in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019.

Kirill Kukhmar

The State Department on Thursday authorized a departure of all non-emergency government employees from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, along with their family members, as the deadly coronavirus continues to spread.

The authorization also extends to U.S. consulates general stationed in the Chinese cities of Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang, according to a State Department official.

“The Department of State made the decision to put the U.S. Embassy and Consulates General on authorized departure status out of an abundance of caution related to logistical disruptions stemming from restricted transportation and availability of appropriate health care related to the novel coronavirus,” the State Department said in a statement.

Both the U.S. Embassy and Consulates General will continue to provide consular services across China, as resources allow, the State Department said.

The authorization, which is not an order to leave the country, came just after the World Health Organization declared the spread of the virus a global health emergency.

Since first emerging about a month ago, the virus has infected more than 8,200 people, and has killed at least 171 people in China and has spread to at least 18 other countries, including the United States.

Earlier Thursday, the United States confirmed its first case of human-to-human transmission of the virus. Almost two dozen other patients are being monitored for possible infections in Illinois.

Multiple people have contracted the virus through human-to-human transmission outside of China, according to a WHO official.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised Americans to avoid all nonessential travel to China.

The State Department on Monday also raised its travel advisory for China from Level 2 to Level 3, asking Americans to “reconsider travel to China due to the novel coronavirus.”

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