Japan sends plane to virus-hit Wuhan to evacuate citizens

by Hiroshi HIYAMA
The Japanese plane carrying evacuees pictured before it departed Wuhan

Japan sent a first plane to the Chinese city of Wuhan on Tuesday night to evacuate citizens from the epicentre of a deadly virus outbreak, a foreign ministry official said.

The plane left around 8:00 pm (1100 GMT), the official confirmed and was expected to return to Tokyo on Wednesday morning carrying several hundred Japanese nationals.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi earlier announced the plans, saying efforts were being made to arrange additional evacuation flights.

"We will also bring with it aid supplies such as masks and protective suits for Chinese people as well as for Japanese nationals," he said.

Around 200 people are expected to be on board the first flight, of around 650 Japanese nationals in the area who have expressed an interest in being repatriated.

Health officials will be aboard the plane to monitor passengers during the return flight but there are no plans to quarantine those arriving from Wuhan.

"We will send around four people per plane -- a medical doctor, a quarantine officer, a nurse and so on. We will carry out a quarantine on board on their way back," a health ministry official told AFP.

She said passengers will be required to fill out medical questionnaires and submit contact numbers.

A second official from the ministry added that passengers with a high fever could be prevented from boarding, and that anyone developing symptoms during the flight would be sent to hospital immediately on arrival in Japan.

"We will also call on all passengers to refrain from going near crowds for a while even if they don't have a fever," he told AFP.

Those who live in and near Tokyo will be allowed to head home, while those living further away will be taken to local hotels initially.

Japan's health ministry has so far confirmed seven cases of the virus in Japan, including one man who had not travelled to China.

The man from the western region of Nara is a tour bus driver who drove passengers from Wuhan region on two occasions in January, the ministry said.

The plane being sent to Wuhan to evacuate Japanese nationals from the virus epicentre readies for departure from Tokyo's Haneda International Airport