9-year-old boy stranded in China due to coronavirus outbreak — what can families do to bring loved ones home?

David Neer, who lives in Bellevue, Washington, is trying to get his 9-year-old son, Daniel, home from China, but travel restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak may mean his son could be stuck there for months. (Photo: Q13 Fox News)
David Neer, who lives in Bellevue, Washington, is trying to get his 9-year-old son, Daniel, home from China, but travel restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak may mean his son could be stuck there for months. (Photo: Q13 Fox News)

A 9-year-old boy from Bellevue, Washington, is currently stranded in China amid the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak — a global health emergency that has now jumped to more than 17,000 cases and more than 360 deaths in China alone — and his father is desperately trying to get his son home.

The boy, Daniel Neer, went to Hangzhou, China, with his mother on January 20 to spend the Lunar New Year with his grandmother, who lives there, according to Q13 Fox News. Daniel was supposed to fly back home to the states on Feb. 3, but with multiple airlines around the globe suspending flights to and from certain regions in China for the next few months in an attempt to contain the coronavirus outbreak, his flight was canceled. David says the airline offered the family a refund or to book seats on the next available flight, which isn’t until April.

As any parent would be, his father, David Neer, is extremely concerned. “I am worried about him getting sick, but it sounds like his mother is doing everything she can,” David told Q13 Fox. “They’re staying in the house. They haven’t been going out. They’re wearing gloves and masks and everything when they do go out in public, so she’s taking all the precautions she can.”

In the meantime, David is trying to get the U.S. government to pay attention to the difficult situation his family is in. “I’ll start standing up and yelling at the top of a cliff to anybody who will listen and start trying to get any high government official or whoever to notice,” he said. “There are U.S. citizens stuck in China that just by circumstance got stuck.”

As David points out, they are far from the only American family currently stranded in China. Priscilla Dickey and her daughter Hermione were supposed to be on the government-chartered plane that evacuated 195 Americans (most of whom were U.S. consulate staff and their families) from China on Jan. 29. But after not being able to locate the daughter's passport in time, they were left behind.

Other people chose not to leave on that flight because they didn’t want to abandon spouses or partners who are Chinese citizens. According to Time, Chinese spouses and other family members of Americans were not allowed on the Jan. 29 flight. “It’s sad when other governments are offering evacuation for Chinese spouses and children as well,” Benjamin Wilson, a restaurateur in Wuhan, who is originally from Alexandria, La., told Time.

Unfortunately, it appears there is little the stranded families can do right now in light of the government-imposed travel restrictions and mass airline suspensions. (According to the U.S. State Department, “the Chinese authorities have suspended air, road, and rail travel in the area around Wuhan and placed restrictions on travel and other activities throughout the country.”) That leaves 9-year-old Daniel stuck in China and missing months of school.

However, Daniel may not have to wait that long: The U.S. State Department announced on Jan. 30 that they are planning to send “additional evacuation flights” for Americans currently in China.

A spokesperson for the State Department provided the following statement to Yahoo Lifestyle: “The Department of State has no higher priority than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad. The Department of State is working with the U.S. Government interagency and our People’s Republic of China (PRC) counterparts on staging additional flights for U.S. citizens to return to the United States from Wuhan.”

The next round of evacuations from Wuhan Tianhe International Airport is said to begin on or around Feb. 3. (However, Wuhan is 470 miles away from Daniel’s grandmother’s home in Hangzhou, making getting there a serious challenge.) U.S. citizens with valid passports who are “interested” in those flights are being asked to email the State Department at CoronaVirusEmergencyUSC@State.gov. The State Department also recommends that U.S. citizens in China enroll the Smart Traveler Enrollment (STEP) program at step.state.gov “to receive the latest updates on the evacuation flights from Wuhan.”

The flights are being arranged on a “reimbursable basis,” meaning those U.S. citizens will have to pay back the government for the cost of the flight. And it won’t be cheap: According to the Wall Street Journal, last week’s government-chartered flight is expected to cost passengers about $1,000 each. The State Department spokesperson also tells Yahoo Lifestyle that “all travelers will be screened for symptoms at the airport prior to departure.”

Priscilla and Hermione Dickey are planning to be on one of those additional flights, U.S. passports in hand. “At this point, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be on a plane,” Priscilla told the Wall Street Journal. She added: “I’m ecstatic. I’m happy. But my face isn’t showing it because I’m tired.”

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