BEIJING: The Chinese government has decided to send charter planes to bring citizens from virus-hit Hubei province who are overseas back “as soon as possible”, the foreign affairs ministry said Friday (Jan 31).
This is in view of “practical difficulties that Hubei citizens, especially those from Wuhan, have faced overseas”, said Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying.
The ministry’s comments come as a number of airlines announced they were halting or reducing flights to China as the country struggles to contain the spread of a deadly new virus.
China has advised its citizens to postpone trips abroad and cancelled overseas group tours, while several countries including Germany and Britain have urged their citizens to avoid travel to China.
The United States told its citizens Thursday night “do not travel” to China, raising its advisory status to the highest level of alert.
The State Department issued a level four warning – up from urging Americans to “reconsider” travel to China – and said any nationals in China now “should consider departing using commercial means.”
The outbreak of the coronavirus has sickened nearly 10,000 people in China with the death toll at more than 200, prompting the World Health Organization to declare an international emergency.
When asked about the suspension of flights at a press conference on Thursday, Zhu Tao of China’s Civil Aviation Administration said authorities were coordinating arrangements to bring travellers home.
As fears of the outbreak have spread overseas, prominent figures in Chinese communities in Italy warned this week of episodes of “latent racism” against their compatriots by Italians fearful of catching the virus.
China has taken extreme steps to stop the spread of the virus, including effectively quarantining more than 50 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.
Thousands of foreigners have been trapped in Wuhan since it was sealed off last week.
The pathogen is believed to have emerged in a market that sold wild game, and spread during a Chinese New Year holiday season in which hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home or abroad.