France to begin China virus evacuations

France to begin China virus evacuations

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (R), French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner (2R), Civil Security Advisor at the Ministry of the Interior Jerome Guerreau (2L), French Health and Solidarity Minister Agnes Buzyn and other ministers attend a meeting regarding measures to be taken after the first cases of coronavirus infection in France and the situation of French expatriates in the area of the epidemic in China. AFP

France will send a first plane this week to evacuate its citizens from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the novel coronavirus scare, in the first repatriations by a European country.

The plane will arrive in Wuhan on Thursday and "probably return to France on Friday, I'm not sure if it will be late on Friday or early on Saturday", Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said at a press conference.

Deputy transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari told CNews television that the flight will only take passengers "who do not have any symptoms" of illness.

A second flight carrying "people who may be carrying the virus" is planned but no date has yet been set, he said.

The evacuations could involve 500 to 1,000 French citizens, but "not all of them want to return," Buzyn said.

The government has already reserved a housing facility for those returning where they will have to stay for 14 days, the estimated virus incubation period, to ensure they are not infected.

Those with flu-like symptoms caused by exposure to the virus will be hospitalised immediately, Djebbari said.

The Chinese government has sealed off Wuhan and neighbouring cities, effectively trapping tens of millions of people, in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.

Thousands of people have been infected in the country and 106 have died so far, authorities say.

France was the first European country to report cases of coronavirus, in three people who had recently been in China, while a half-dozen other cases are being analysed.