Hundreds of medical workers from China's army have arrived in the novel coronavirus-hit city of Wuhan.
At the order of the Central Military Commission, the Chinese Air Force dispatched eight large-scale aircraft carrying 795 medical staff and 58 tons of supplies to Wuhan early Sunday morning.
The medical teams were transferred to the brand new Huoshenshan Hospital dedicated to the outbreak.
"When we received the order, we did not hesitate. The country needs us as the epidemic worsens. As soldiers, we should be on the front line," said Mao Qi, a medical team member.
The medical teams face a front line that many of them have seen before – having experiences during the 2003 SARS epidemic and the more recent Ebola outbreaks in Africa.
Before their departure, the teams went through sophisticated training processes. Many say they're now ready for the challenge, despite knowing very little about what lies ahead.
"This mission is special; we are not familiar with the environment. We have sufficient preparation, but we don't know how long it will last. There are still some uncertainties," said Ma Ling, another team member.
This is the largest number of such aircraft dispatched simultaneously by the Air Force in non-wartime military operations since the earthquake relief efforts in Wenchuan in 2008 and Yushu in 2010.
The eight planes, which took off at 1:30 a.m. from a military airport despite the rain, arrived in northeast China's Shenyang, southwest China's Lanzhou, south China's Guangzhou and east China's Nanjing, respectively, to pick up medical teams and supplies at around 4:00 a.m., before they landed successively at Wuhan Tianhe Airport at around 9:00 a.m.
Behind the task is an experienced aviation team that has successfully completed disaster relief missions during the Wenchuan and Yushu earthquakes. The team had already sent three military medical teams on the eve of the traditional Chinese Lunar New Year.
Wang Quansheng, deputy head of the team, said that after receiving the mission, all officers and soldiers raced against time to work out the emergency delivery plan.
In order to take the medical staff and supplies to Wuhan as soon as possible, the planes took off in the middle of the night after completing pre-flight preparations, Wang said.
As of Saturday midnight, China had 14,411 confirmed cases of the virus, with 304 deaths and 328 recoveries.
(Zhang Youze also contributed to the report.)