Wuhan evacuation: US and Japan to fly out citizens as coronavirus deaths rise


The death toll from the coronavirus has risen to 106, Chinese officials confirmed on Tuesday, as countries scrambled to fly their citizens out of the city at the centre of the outbreak.

Japan said it would send a chartered flight to Wuhan on Tuesday night to evacuate its citizens, while the US government is also preparing an airlift. The state department had planned a flight for Tuesday evening, but it was unclear if it would land as scheduled. Both South Korea and France are also aiming to fly out citizens this week.

Several countries have also stepped up their warnings over travel to China, including the US, which now advises citizens to avoid non-essential visits to any part of the country. Previously it had warned only about non-essential travel to Wuhan or other parts of Hubei province, where most deaths have occurred. Germany and Turkey have released similar statements asking citizens to reconsider all travel.

On Monday, the British government, which has been accused of a slow response to the crisis, asked its citizens to contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, so it could determine how many British people were in Wuhan. Matt Hancock, the British health secretary said that citizens would be offered repatriation. It is thought that up to 300 UK nationals are in the wider Hubei province, where most deaths have occurred.

The UK government has been criticised by British residents stuck in Wuhan – including a man whose grandmother risks running out of medicine. The city, which is home to 11 million people, has been in lockdown since Thursday, with planes, trains and most private vehicles blocked from leaving.

Around 4,515 cases of the illness have now been recorded across China, with almost 1,000 people in critical condition, according to state media. On Tuesday, Beijing confirmed the city’s first death from the virus. Though the number of cases appears to have risen quickly, from 2,887 on Monday, this was likely to be due to better reporting, and the numbers remain small compared with the population.

Japanese foreign minister Toshimitsu Motegi said around 650 Japanese citizens were hoping to return to Japan, and that the first flight could carry around 200 passengers. He added the government was making arrangements for additional flights that would leave for Wuhan as early as Wednesday.

It was not clear if a US flight scheduled to land in Wuhan at 10pm on Tuesday would arrive as scheduled, with some reports suggesting it had been delayed until Wednesday. American citizens have been told there is only limited space available on the plane.

France has also said it intends to evacuate its citizens from the city in the middle of this week, according to reports by Agence France-Presse. South Korea’s prime minister, Chung Sye-kyun, said the country would charter flights as early as Thursday.

Workers in protective suits disinfect the Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station Photograph: STRINGER/Reuters

China has encouraged citizens to reconsider the timing of overseas travel, and introduced sweeping measures to try to stop the spread of the disease across the country. On Monday, officials postponed the end of this week’s Lunar New Year holiday until at least 2 February in an effort to reduce the chances of infection during what is the country’s busiest travel season. In Shanghai, which has recorded 66 cases of the virus, the end of the holiday has been postponed until 9 February.

Travel restrictions have been announced in many cities, with long-distance bus services banned, while big chains have said they will temporarily close their stores in some areas.

There were nearly 7,000 more cases suspected and awaiting confirmation, China’s national health commission said on Monday.

More than 10 countries have confirmed cases of the disease, though patient numbers outside of China remain small. On Monday, Germany, Canada and Sri Lanka each said they had recorded first cases of infection.

Malaysia on Monday banned visitors arriving from Hubei, while Hong Kong has also taken similar action.

In Australia, the New South Wales government has asked parents whose children have returned from China over the past two weeks not to send their children to school when term commences after the summer break.

Mongolia, which is heavily dependent on trade with China, has also banned cars from crossing the border with its neighbour.