China coronavirus: embassies make plans to get foreigners out of Wuhan

Lee Jeong-ho

Japan, the United States, France and Russia are preparing to evacuate their citizens from Wuhan, the city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak, after the death toll in mainland China rose sharply on Sunday and the spread of the infection showed no signs of slowing down.

Other countries said they are ramping up their health checks and even cancelling incoming flights in an attempt to prevent further infections in their territories.

China’s National Health Commission said on Sunday that the death toll had risen to 56, while there had been more than 2,000 confirmed cases in the Chinese mainland and almost 50 in other regions and countries.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that Tokyo would help all Japanese nationals who wanted to leave Wuhan to get home, Japan’s state broadcaster NHK reported on Sunday.

The Chinese city has been on lockdown since Thursday morning.

The Japanese government would charter commercial aircraft once the necessary arrangements had been made with the Chinese government, Abe said.

The US state department said on Sunday it would fly all of its Wuhan consulate workers back to the United States and would provide a limited number of seats on the aircraft to other US citizens who wanted to leave.

Reuters said there would be a flight from Wuhan to San Francisco on Tuesday, and that people considered most at risk would be given priority.

Meanwhile, the French foreign ministry said in a statement that Paris was considering busing French citizens and their families away from Wuhan to other cities within China.

An emergency phone line had also been set up for people to call, it said.

The Russian embassy in Wuhan said Moscow and Beijing were discussing a possible evacuation plan for Russian citizens, both from Wuhan and other parts of Hubei province, the RIA news agency reported on Saturday.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Sunday that Beijing was cooperating with the evacuation plans.

India has also made inquiries to Beijing about an evacuation, while South Korea said it was considering deploying a charter flight to evacuate its citizens from the epicentre of the crisis.

Meanwhile, the Philippines has begun denying on-arrival visas to tour groups from Wuhan, and has suspended all inbound direct flights from the city.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Saturday that the country was facing a “grave situation”, given the “accelerating spread” of the deadly virus. He ordered party committees and governments at all levels to make prevention and control of the outbreak their top priority, saying it was “our responsibility” to do so.

China’s National Health Commission said on Sunday that more than 1,350 doctors and nurses from outside Wuhan had been dispatched to the city to help battle the epidemic, while a further 1,000 would soon follow.

The Ministry of National Defence said that 450 medical workers from the military arrived in Wuhan on Friday night.

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