Wuhan virus: Countries scramble to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan

A woman puts a protective mask in a neighborhood on the outskirts of Wuhan, China, Jan 27, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO - Japanese and American nationals in Wuhan are set to be the first foreigners to leave the city since it was locked down as countries scramble to evacuate their citizens trapped in ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak. They could be flown out as soon as Tuesday (Jan 28).

France has confirmed their citizens will be evacuated by midweek. Russia, Spain, Sri Lanka and Thailand are asking China to allow their nationals to leave, while several other countries including Australia, Britain, Germany and India are are also considering evacuation options.

The 2019-nCOV virus, which is believed to have originated from Wuhan, has killed about 80 people and infected over 2,700 worldwide.

The sprawling city of 11 million is the capital of Hubei province and a major industrial and economic hub in central China. Figures on the Hubei province website said there were 19,000 foreign residents in the province in 2018, of whom more than 15,000 live in Wuhan.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Monday that chartered evacuation flights are being prepared to leave "as soon as possible" for Wuhan, where 430 Japanese citizens are confirmed to be trapped. There are 710 registered Japanese residents in Hubei, of whom 560 are currently in the province.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday said Tokyo will designate the virus as a "special infectious disease", a status that was given to Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and Mers (Middle East respiratory syndrome). This will unlock public funds to provide urgent treatment to patients, and include measures such as forced isolation.

The US will charter a Boeing 767 , which seats 230 people, to evacuate personnel of the US consulate in Wuhan and private American citizens on Tuesday.

France, which has 800 citizens in Wuhan, will repatriate those who want to leave by mid-week, Health Minister Agnes Buzyn has said. Upon returning home, they will stay in a holding area for two weeks, the estimated incubation period for the virus.

Spain, which has 20 citizens stuck in Wuhan, is working with Beijing and the European Union to organise a "joint repatriation flight" for affected Europeans, Madrid said on Monday.

Russia has been in talks with China to evacuate its 140 nationals, of whom 75 are students, as has Sri Lanka, which has asked Beijing for permission to allow a charter plane to land in Wuhan to repatriate 32 Sri Lankan students and their families.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said Beijing has not granted permission for a charter plane to evacuate Thais.

"China confirmed that it can still control the virus," he said on Monday. "As long as the situation is under control, they are unnecessary. Otherwise, there would be a confusion of flights from other countries."

The acting spokesman for Indonesia's Foreign Ministry, Teuku Faizasyah, also said it seemed "impossible" to evacuate the estimated 93 Indonesians in Wuhan.

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