Wuhan virus: China to send chartered flights to bring Wuhan residents home

BEIJING • China's aviation authority has approved several chartered flights to bring home Wuhan residents who have been stranded abroad since the outbreak of the coronavirus, state television reported yesterday.

Domestic and international airlines have cancelled flights between Wuhan and cities overseas since last Thursday in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus.

The aviation authority also said that airlines should not prevent healthy Wuhan residents from boarding flights.

The agency said a number of Wuhan residents have been brought home from destinations such as Krabi in Thailand, Mandalay in Myanmar, Singapore and Osaka in Japan, reported China Global Television Network.

Meanwhile, foreigners continue being evacuated out of Wuhan, with plans to isolate them when they arrive varying between countries.

Countries such as Australia, South Korea, Singapore and New Zealand will quarantine all evacuees regardless of whether they showed symptoms for at least two weeks, while the United States and Japan are planning voluntary isolation for shorter periods.

South Korea faced protests at facilities earmarked for quarantine centres in Asan and Jincheon, cities about 80km south of capital Seoul, as it prepared to fly out 700 South Koreans from Wuhan in four flights, the first of which was due to depart yesterday. The protesters want the quarantine centres moved away from residential areas.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged people not to give in to fear. "The weapons that will pro-tect us from the new coronavirus are not fear and aversion, but trust and cooperation."

New Zealand announced yesterday that it will charter a 300-seat aircraft to evacuate its nationals from Wuhan. There are 53 New Zealanders confirmed to be in Wuhan, but the actual number is believed to be more than double that.

"New Zealand will be offering any additional seats to Pacific Island and Australian citizens as a matter of priority," said Foreign Minister Winston Peters, adding that the flight was still subject to China's approval. "This is a complex operation as we work through all the necessary requirements, but we are working to have the aircraft depart as soon as possible."

The announcement to charter an aircraft from Air New Zealand, part-owned by the government, came a day after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her government was working with Canberra to assist the departure of New Zealanders and Australians from Wuhan.

There have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in New Zealand, although a student has been placed in isolation in an Auckland hospital while he undergoes tests.

Indonesia is also preparing to evacuate its citizens from Wuhan and will quarantine them for at least 14 days on arrival, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said yesterday.

 
 
 

Ms Retno said the government is working with the Beijing authorities on the evacuation. She said there were at least 243 Indonesians in areas declared to be in lockdown, the majority of whom were in Wuhan.

Britain said on Wednesday that it was preparing to evacuate and quarantine around 200 nationals stranded in the Chinese city.

Downing Street said the civilian charter flight from Wuhan would leave yesterday, but did not confirm where it would land in Britain.

"On arrival, passengers will be safely isolated for two weeks with all the necessary medical attention," Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman told reporters.

Meanwhile Dow Jones reported yesterday that the US will provide an additional flight to evacuate private citizens from Wuhan on or about Monday, after an earlier flight carrying more than 200 Americans arrived at March Air Reserve Base in California on Wednesday morning.

Comprising mostly diplomats and families, they will stay isolated at the military base for at least 72 hours, officials said.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 31, 2020, with the headline 'China to send chartered flights to bring Wuhan residents home'. Print Edition | Subscribe