TOKYO (REUTERS) - The first chartered flight carrying 206 Japanese nationals evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus epidemic, arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday (Jan 29) - four of them showing symptoms of fever or coughing.
Japan has confirmed seven patients, including a Japanese tour bus driver who had been infected after coming into contact with Chinese visitors - the first reported case of a possible transmission inside Japan, according to the health ministry.
"I was extremely worried that I was stuck there while the situation was changing very rapidly," Takeo Aoyama, a Nippon Steel employee, told reporters at the airport after being evacuated from Wuhan, which is in virtual lockdown.
"I feel really relieved now that I have been brought back in a speedy manner like this on a chartered flight," said Aoyama, who was wearing a mask.
The death toll from the coronavirus, believed to have originated in a Wuhan market which illegally sold wildlife, rose sharply to 132 on Wednesday, with nearly 1,500 new cases.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said four passengers evacuated with symptoms would undergo medical examinations at a hospital designated for infectious diseases, while the remaining passengers would be asked to return home or stay at a nearby hotel after a check-up at a separate hospital.
A fifth person later fell ill and was taken to a different hospital in Tokyo, the metropolitan government said.
When reached by Reuters, health ministry and other government officials could not say when the four passengers had started showing signs of illness.
Suga said all 206 passengers had been cleared to travel by medics before leaving Wuhan.
A health ministry official told Reuters that medics would normally be checking for symptoms such as fever and coughing.
The government has said that a total of 650 Japanese citizens were hoping to be evacuated, and that it was making arrangements for additional flights.
The government will set up a special task force to deal with the epidemic on Thursday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.
"We must act with the understanding that the situation is now different. We have come to a new stage," Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said in parliament, a day after confirmation of the first suspected person-to-person infection within Japan.