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Paris to evacuate citizens from Wuhan as fifth coronavirus case confirmed in France

A picture taken in a laboratory of the National Reference Center (CNR) for respiratory viruses at the Institut Pasteur in Paris on January 28, 2020 shows a biohazard sticker on the entrance of a room. The CNR analyses for respiratory viruses among which coronavirus.
A picture taken in a laboratory of the National Reference Center (CNR) for respiratory viruses at the Institut Pasteur in Paris on January 28, 2020 shows a biohazard sticker on the entrance of a room. The CNR analyses for respiratory viruses among which coronavirus. © Thomas Samson, AFP

France has confirmed a fifth case of infection by the new coronavirus from China, the French health minister said on Wednesday, adding the patient was the daughter of an 80-year-old man already hospitalized with the disease.

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Minister for Health Agnès Buzyn also said the first flight, which will later repatriate French nationals from the Chinese town of Wuhan - the epicentre of the virus - would depart France for China later on Wednesday, with a second flight to follow on Thursday or Friday.

France confirmed its first three cases of the Wuhan coronavirus on Friday, and a fourth case on Tuesday.

“We now have five cases, out of which two are under surveillance,” Buzyn said at a press conference.

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

Buzyn said the first plane will likely return to France late Friday or early Saturday. Those on it will be brought to a holding facility in Paris, where they will stay for 14 days – the estimated virus incubation period – to ensure they do not have the virus and therefore cannot pass it on to others.

Any who display symptoms, which are similar to the flu and include a fever, will be hospitalised immediately.

Deputy transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari told CNews television the first flight would bring only passengers “who do not have any symptoms” of illness.

Another flight to bring home “people who may be carrying the virus” is planned but no date has yet been set, he said.

“Several planes will follow,” added Buzyn, so as not to mix potentially infected people with healthy ones on the same flight.

The European Commission said in a statement on Tuesday that EU citizens would also be flown out of Wuhan.

“Initial numbers indicate that around 250 French citizens will be transported in the first aircraft and over 100 EU citizens from other countries will join the second aircraft,” it said in a statement.

The airlift, at France’s request, will now be co-funded by the EU under its civil protection mechanism and broadened with the second plane for EU citizens.

It said “only healthy or asymptomatic citizens will be authorised to travel” on the flights.

‘Won’t close the doors’

France was the first European country to report imported cases of the new coronavirus. The first three were people who had recently been to China.

On Tuesday, officials said a German man, who has not been to China, was infected with the virus by a colleague visiting Bavaria from China, in what is believed to be the first human transmission on European soil.

Buzyn said several European countries had asked France to bring their nationals home on its planes.

“Obviously, we won’t close the doors of our planes to foreign nationals if they request it and if we have the possibility” to help them, Buzyn added.

Among the French in Wuhan, some may not be keen on leaving, however.

“Some have family members who are not necessarily French nationals, so it is necessary to know if they want to return, and if the Chinese government accepts it,” Buzyn said.

“All of this is being discussed with the Chinese authorities.”

Others are put off by the mandatory 14-day quarantine period.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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