China will dispatch chartered planes to the United States to bring back underage Chinese students who wish to return home, the Chinese Embassy in the United States said on Monday.
With priorities given based on youngest to oldest, all unaccompanied students under the age of 18 studying in the United States are eligible to apply for the self-paid flights, the online notice said, adding that the decision is in line with the direct instructions of Chinese President Xi Jinping to prioritize the overseas Chinese students' health and safety.
The announcement comes as cases of coronavirus infections in the United States continues to grow rapidly, with confirmed infections exceeding 337,000, the largest number worldwide, and the death toll surpassing 9,000, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Over a quarter of the some 1.6 million Chinese students studying abroad are in the United States, according to the Education Ministry, with an earlier survey revealing that about 60 percent of them want to return home to China immediately amid growing outbreaks in the United States.
On March 29, after around 80 percent of international flights were already canceled, China's Civil Aviation Administration ordered airlines to severely cut flights in and out of China in an effort to contain the increasing risk of imported cases, making it even more difficult for overseas students to return home.
As domestic transmission cases have dwindled, China has declared imported and asymptomatic cases the top priorities in the country's COVID-19 response, temporarily banning the entry of most foreigners and beginning to publish asymptomatic cases in its daily coronavirus update in recent weeks.
On Monday, China's health authorities reported 117 new cases of coronavirus infection for the mainland, 39 with symptoms and 78 who showed none.
The National Health Commission said all but one of the 39 symptomatic cases confirmed over one day to the end of Sunday were in people arriving from abroad, bringing the total number of imported cases to 951.
In total, there were 1,047 asymptomatic cases, patients who tested positive without showing any symptoms, still under medical observation.
The tally of confirmed symptomatic cases for mainland China now stands at 81,708. The commission also reported one additional death, confirmed in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, taking the total number of fatalities on the mainland to 3,331.
The one new locally transmitted case, reported in the city of Shenzhen, was confirmed in a traveler from Hubei Province, of which Wuhan is the provincial capital, Guangdong provincial authorities said.