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Myanmar sends back China plane after coronavirus scare

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Yangon (AFP)

Myanmar on Friday sent a plane back to China with most passengers still on board -- including French and American citizens —- after one man suspected of contracting the coronavirus was taken to hospital.

No cases of the pathogen that has killed 213 people in China have been reported in Myanmar so far but fears have been growing in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation that shares a border with its powerful neighbour.

A total of 79 people were on board the China Southern Airline flight from Guangzhou, including two Americans, two French, two Myanmar, one Columbian and 72 Chinese nationals, according to airport officials.

One Chinese passenger was taken to a nearby hospital after displaying possible symptoms of the virus, said civil aviation department manager Soe Paing.

An AFP reporter saw health-workers wearing full protective gear greeting an airport ambulance.

The two Myanmar nationals were also allowed to disembark and taken to the same hospital for checks, Soe Paing added.

"The rest of the people on the flight were sent back."

An airport police officer also confirmed the passengers' return.

Despite a lack of confirmed cases in the country experts fear its fragile health system is in no way capable of coping with a serious outbreak.

Myanmar is also waiting for permission to evacuate more than 60 students trapped in Wuhan since the city, the origin of the epidemic, was sealed off last week.

Several countries have halted flights to China or tightened visa restrictions amid the virus scare and Myanmar has discussed adopting similar measures.

Singapore announced Friday a sweeping ban on arrivals and transit passengers from mainland China hours after the World Health Organization declared a global emergency.

The disease has so far spread to more than 20 nations and infected nearly 10,000 people though there have been no reported deaths outside of China.

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