Coronavirus: Taiwan evacuates first group from Wuhan, announces limit on mask purchases

Two men walking past a building which will reportedly serve as a quarantine center for Taiwanese citizens evacuated from Wuhan; in Taipei, on Feb 3, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TAIPEI (REUTERS) - Taiwan has evacuated the first batch of an estimated 500 Taiwanese stranded in the Chinese city of Wuhan, which has been locked down by the government as it tries to contain the spread of the coronavirus first discovered there.

Taiwan had complained that China had not responded to requests to fly out its citizens, even as Beijing gave such permission to other governments, including the United States and Britain.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement on Tuesday (Feb 4) that 247 people had arrived at Taipei's main international airport late on Monday.

The passengers will be quarantined for 14 days. Anyone showing symptoms of the virus will be sent to a hospital.

China says one Taiwanese person in Wuhan has been infected.

Taiwan has reported 10 cases of the coronavirus; more than 20,000 have been reported in China.

Separately, Taiwan will begin rationing face masks. People will be able to get two masks per week by showing their national insurance cards, a policy the government said would prevent hoarding.

Taiwanese health authorities have repeatedly said that most people do not have to wear masks unless they are unwell or going to high-risk areas like hospitals, but there has been a run on masks in shops and many people are wearing them.

The government says it is well prepared to deal with the virus and has called on people not to panic.

Taiwan has banned most travellers from mainland China as it seeks to protect itself against the virus, and on Sunday said it would postpone the re-opening of schools after the Lunar New Year holiday by two weeks to Feb 25.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.