Scores of coronavirus evacuees arrive in France

3 min

Carry-le-Rouet (France) (AFP)

Some 180 people evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of a deadly SARS-like virus, landed in France on Friday, with one hospitalised on arrival with coronavirus symptoms, Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said.

The rest of the passengers were taken to a seaside holiday camp, near Marseille in southern France, where they will be kept in quarantine for two weeks.

Announcing the flight on Wednesday, Buzyn had said that it would be reserved for people "who show no symptoms" of the virus that has killed over 200 people and infected nearly 10,000 in mainland China, prompting the World Health Organization to declare a global emergency.

Buzyn said that "if people have symptoms or are sick... they will be repatriated on specific medical flights."

On Thursday, the authorities confirmed a sixth case of the new coronavirus in France, a doctor who was infected by a person who had travelled from China.

The person later returned to China and was confirmed to be sick with the virus.

Three AFP journalists were onboard the 12-hour flight to France, which landed shortly after noon.

The evacuees, most of them French or the Chinese spouses of French nationals, were given surgical face masks to wear throughout the flight, which they changed regularly after disinfecting their hands.

The returnees included around 50 children, including some babies.

All the passengers had their temperatures taken before boarding, and when they did they were still not sure of their destination, said AFP's Sebastien Ricci.

The passengers, who were accompanied by a medical team, broke into applause as they touched down in France.

They were taken to a holiday centre at Carry-le-Rouet, on France's southern coast, where medical supervision was available and the Red Cross was ready to bring in pre-cooked meals.

- 'Relief' -

"For some, it is a real crossroads in life," said Ricci.

"They left Wuhan and don't know if they will go back there... it's both a relief and a sad thing."

That sentiment was shared by fellow traveller Adrien, 26, who has been working in the automobile industry in China.

"One hand there's sadness at leaving a country we had become attached to, but there's also relief because we didn't know how things would turn out (in Wuhan)."

Nicolas, a 30-year-old engineer who had lived in Wuhan for four years was nearing the end of his contract.

"It's fine. we had been in the dark for the past few days and we're just happy that a decision (to evacuate) has been taken."

Buzyn said she would have liked to shake hands with the returnees but circumstances prohibited that.

She stressed that no visits would be allowed while they were under observation.

Measures were taken to reassure the resident of Carry-le-Rouet, but not everyone was satisfied.

"People will come into contact with them through food, bins. They tell us not to be alarmed but they don't really know anything."

Buzyn said preparations were now being finalised for a second repatriation flight by France that could leave as soon as Sunday although details were still unclear.

Air France has suspended its flights to and from China until February 9. The Chinese New Year celebrations in Paris have been postponed.