Coronavirus: Three Irish people to be evacuated from Wuhan

Irish citizens to travel to UK as Russia closes border with China in bid to contain virus

Doctors watch as  medical supplies from Beijing are unloaded at a hospital in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on Thursday. Photograph: Chinatopix via AP

Doctors watch as medical supplies from Beijing are unloaded at a hospital in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province on Thursday. Photograph: Chinatopix via AP

 

Three Irish citizens who have been under lockdown for the past week in the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak will be evacuated out of Wuhan early on Friday on a flight arranged by the British government for its nationals.

The flight was originally supposed to leave on Thursday but there were delays obtaining final permission from the Chinese authorities.

The plane, with approximately 200 passengers on board, is scheduled to depart at 5am on Friday local time and fly to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

The evacuees will then be taken by bus to a National Health Service facility in north-west Britain for a 14-day quarantine period, sources said.

Passengers have been told to meet at a muster point six hours before the scheduled departure time “for an initial health screening by the Chinese authorities and an initial registration check”.

The flight was delayed as there were discussions as to whether the Beijing authorities would permit family members who were Chinese nationals, or who held dual nationality, to join the evacuation.

After some “top level negotiations” British foreign secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement on Thursday: “We are pleased to have confirmation from the Chinese authorities that the evacuation flight from Wuhan airport to the UK can depart at 5am local time on Friday, the 31st of January.”

An advance notice sent by the British government to those planning to board the plane said in bold lettering: “We cannot guarantee that dual nationals will be allowed to travel.”

Chinese nationals will not be permitted on the rescheduled flight, sources said.

A British embassy official said they would be pressing the Chinese government to allow all spouses and family members to leave on future flights, regardless of their nationality.

The three Irish nationals who are leaving on the flight do not have Chinese family members, it is understood.

The Irish embassy in Beijing held a meeting with British and other European counterparts early in the week to discuss coordinated evacuation options.

There are at least another eight Irish citizens currently in Hubei province, most of whom have Chinese spouses or partners, who are opting to stay in the area for now.

The evacuations come as health officials in Beijing reported the biggest single-day jump in deaths from the new coronavirus.

Russia said it was shutting its vast land border with China on Thursday in a bid to keep the virus at bay. The Kremlin said it was closing its 4,200-kilometre border with China, and would stop issuing electronic visas to Chinese nationals.

“We have to do everything to protect our people,” prime minister Mikhail Mishustin said.

While some flights between China and Russia are still operating, the foreign ministry warned Russians to avoid non-essential travel to the country.

Russia hasn’t yet reported any cases of the deadly virus, which has now spread to at least 20 countries and territories around the world.

China reported 38 new deaths on Thursday, bringing the total number of fatalities from the illness to 170, with confirmed infections up to 8,000.

One of the new fatalities was reported in Chengdu, Sichuan province, while the remaining where in Hubei, the province where the virus originated.

Tibet confirmed its first case on Thursday, meaning the coronavirus has now spread to all of mainland China’s 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.

A growing number of governments have advised their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to mainland China, and more than 30 airlines, include British Airways and Lufthansa, have suspended or cut back flight services.

Hubei has been sealed off for more than a week since the emergency was declared, with more than 50 million people self-isolating in effective lockdown.

Several countries have been evacuating, or making plans to evacuate, their nationals out of the province this week.

Taiwan, the self-ruled island that China consider its territory, has also requested permission to repatriate its passport holders, but Beijing has not responded to the request, Taiwanese officials said.

Japan’s number of confirmed cases climbed to 11 on Thursday after three Japanese citizens who were among the 200 passengers evacuated out of Wuhan on Wednesday tested positive.

Two of the three new confirmed cases showed no symptoms, officials said.

Off the coast of Italy, some 6.000 passengers and 1,000 crew aboard a cruise ship docked north of Rome have been quarantined for more than 24 hours after one passenger from Macau had a fever and showed flu-like symptoms.

Tests are being carried out on the woman and her husband, and the case has been reported to the Italian maritime authorities. Initial tests have come back negative, officials said.

US health officials announced America’s first case of person-to-person transmission of the coronavirus on Thursday. The patient, who has not been to China recently, is married to a woman who was confirmed with the infection after she returned from a trip to Wuhan.

This is the sixth US confirmed case, with the other five all travellers who developed the illness after returning from China.