Plane carrying Japanese evacuees from Wuhan lands in Tokyo


Tokyo (AFP)

The first Japanese nationals evacuated from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of a deadly virus outbreak, arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday aboard a charter plane.

The plane landed at Haneda airport around 8:45am (1145 GMT), with officials saying 206 people were on board.

Airport workers wearing face masks immediately began unloading luggage from the aircraft, and several buses pulled up, but there was no immediate sign of passengers leaving the plane. Ambulances could be seen nearby.

Earlier, health ministry officials said medical professionals on board the flight would carry out health checks but that there were no plans to quarantine the arriving passengers.

The flight arrived as several countries work to extract their nationals from Wuhan, with an American charter flight also leaving the city on Wednesday, bound for an airport in the Los Angeles area.

The flight chartered by the Japanese government had arrived in Wuhan overnight carrying emergency relief supplies including 15,000 masks, 50,000 pairs of gloves and 8,000 protective glasses, the foreign ministry said.

Around four medical officials were also on board to monitor returning passengers.

Government officials said Tuesday that evacuees would be asked to fill out a health questionnaire and that anyone displaying symptoms on the flight would be taken to hospital immediately upon arrival in Japan.

- Asked to avoid crowds -

All passengers were expected to be tested for the new strain of coronavirus, which has killed more than 100 people and infected thousands.

The evacuees would be asked to remain at home and avoid crowds at least until the results of the test were known, officials said.

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 the country, including one man who had not travelled to China.

The man from the western region of Nara had driven a tour bus with tourists from Wuhan twice in January, the health ministry said.

Japan's foreign ministry says around 650 Japanese nationals in the Wuhan area have asked to be repatriated, and local media reported Wednesday that Tokyo was preparing to send a second charter flight, possibly later Wednesday, to collect more people.

Chinese authorities said Wednesday that the number of confirmed deaths in the outbreak has risen to 132 nationwide, with the confirmed total of infections now nearly 6,000.

More than 50 million people have been locked down in and around Wuhan, the central industrial city where the outbreak first began, in a bid by authorities to stop an infection that has since spread to other cities in China and to other countries.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called the virus a "demon" during talks on Tuesday with the head of the World Health Organization in Beijing, and pledged a "timely" release of updates about the crisis.