11 July 2024

BEIJING  — Several countries are expected to start evacuating their citizens trapped in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of a coronavirus outbreak that has so far claimed 80 lives and which has been under a lockdown since last Thursday.

Media reports said Japanese and American nationals in Wuhan are set to be the first foreigners to leave the city as soon as Tuesday.

France 24 said the French government has confirmed its citizens will be evacuated by midweek. Russia, Spain, Sri Lanka and Thailand are asking China to allow their nationals to leave, while several other countries including Australia, Britain, Germany and India are also considering evacuation options.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on Monday that the Thai Air Force has transport planes and medical teams on stand-by to evacuate Thai citizens in Wuhan.  The Thai Embassy in Beijing confirmed that there are 64 Thais living in Wuhan.   Prayut said a prior permission from China is needed for the planned evacuation.

French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn said on Sunday that French citizens will be repatriated by airplane directly to France, with the agreement of the Chinese authorities.  He said the evacuation will take place midweek.

The U.S. Consulate in Wuhan announced it will evacuate its personnel and some other Americans aboard a charter flight.

Meanwhile, China’s health minister said the country was entering a “crucial stage” as “it seems like the ability of the virus to spread is getting stronger.”

President Xi Jinping has called the outbreak a grave situation and said the government was stepping up efforts to restrict travel and public gatherings while rushing medical staff and supplies to the city at the center of the crisis, Wuhan, which remains on lockdown with no flights, trains or buses in or out.

The epidemic has revived memories of the SARS outbreak that originated in China and killed nearly 800 as it spread around the world in 2002 and 2003. Its spread has come amid China’s busiest travel period of the year, when millions crisscross the country or head abroad for the Lunar New Year holiday.

The government said early Monday the death toll had risen to 80, with 2,744 confirmed cases.

The National Health Commission said 769 new cases were confirmed in the 24 hours through midnight Sunday.

The government also reported five cases in Hong Kong and two in Macao. Small numbers of cases have been found in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the U.S., Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France and Australia.

The U.S. has confirmed cases in Washington state, Chicago, Southern California and Arizona. Canada said it discovered its first case, a man in his 50s who was in Wuhan before flying to Toronto. Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea each reported one new case Sunday, while Thailand reported three new cases.