Russia to evacuate citizens from China as virus toll rises
Shanghai (Reuters) – China faced mounting isolation from international travel curbs and flight suspensions on Saturday, with Russia to start pulling out its citizens next week, as the death toll from a spreading coronavirus outbreak rose to 259.
The epidemic has led to mass evacuations of foreign citizens as world airlines halt flights, and risks exacerbating a slowdown in growth in the world’s second-largest economy.
The Russian military was to start evacuating Russian citizens from China on Monday and Tuesday, Interfax and TASS news agencies reported. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying the evacuations would be from regions that had been most affected by the outbreak.
Peskov first said that evacuation will start on Saturday but later corrected himself. Russia has already reported its first two cases of coronavirus and restricted direct flights to China.
China’s National Health Commission said there were 2,102 new confirmed infections in China as of Friday, bringing the total to 11,791. Around two dozen other countries have reported another 137 cases. The death toll rose by 46 to 259, all in China.
The Chinese data would suggest it is less deadly than the 2002-03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people of the some 8,000 it infected, although such numbers can evolve rapidly.
Inside China, Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, was under a virtual quarantine, with roads sealed off and public transport shut down. Elsewhere, authorities placed growing restrictions on travel and business.
In Beijing, counters were set up at the entrances of housing estates, where volunteers wearing red arm bands and masks noted down details of residents coming back from their hometowns after the Lunar New Year holiday.
“As long as I am properly protected and don’t go to crowded places, I don’t feel scared at all about my hometown or Beijing,” said a 58-year-old migrant worker surnamed Sun.
Others were more worried.
“There will be a huge number of people returning to the city. I think it will put Beijing at risk of more infections,” said Zhang Chunlei, 45, another returning migrant worker.
In Hubei, the provincial government extended the holiday break to Feb. 13 in a bid to contain the outbreak, the Hubei Daily reported.
The World Health Organization, which this week declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern, has said global trade and travel restrictions are not needed.
But Singapore and the United States announced measures on Friday to ban foreign nationals who have recently been in China from entering their territories.