Straits Herald January 31, 2020

China sent two planes to Malaysia and Thailand on Friday to bring “stranded” Hubei province residents back to the virus-stricken city of Wuhan, authorities said.

The Xiamen Airlines flights will pick up the Chinese nationals from Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia and the Thai capital Bangkok, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

There are 117 nationals from Hubei province in Bangkok and 100 in Kota Kinabalu who are “willing to take the chartered flights back to Wuhan as soon as possible”, the CAAC said in a statement.

This is in spite of the fact that Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, is the epicentre of a new virus outbreak that is believed to have originated in a market that sold wild animals.

The city of 11 million has since experienced an unprecedented lockdown, preventing residents from leaving in a bid to stop the deadly virus from spreading further.

The charter flights are expected to arrive in Wuhan at 1200 and 1300 GMT on the same day.

“The charter flights adopt the principle of voluntary ticket purchase,” the CAAC added.

China’s foreign affairs ministry said earlier on Friday that the country would bring Wuhan residents back from overseas “as soon as possible” due to the “the practical difficulties that Chinese citizens from Hubei, especially Wuhan, have faced overseas”.

This comes after 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.

On Monday, Malaysia banned visitors from Wuhan and its surrounding Hubei province as well.

The topic was trending online on Friday, with over 67 million views and 21,000 discussion posts on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo.

“These people probably don’t want to go back (to Wuhan),” said one.

Another questioned if residents should be brought back if they were not infected.

When asked about the suspension of international flights at a press conference on Thursday, Zhu Tao of the CAAC said authorities were coordinating arrangements to bring travellers home.

Hospitals have been overwhelmed in Wuhan. AFP reporters saw long queues, with some patients saying they lined up for two days to see a doctor.

As fears of the outbreak have spread overseas, prominent figures in Chinese communities in Italy have warned of episodes of “latent racism” against their compatriots by Italians fearful of catching the virus.

China has advised its citizens to postpone trips abroad and cancelled overseas group tours, while several countries including the United States, Germany, Britain and Japan have urged their citizens to avoid travel to China. – AFP