Japanese evacuated from Wuhan describe fear in virus epicentre

08:36 | 30/01/2020
Japanese citizens evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of a deadly virus outbreak, described an atmosphere of confusion and fear in the Chinese city and expressed relief as they arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday (Jan 29).
japanese evacuated from wuhan describe fear in virus epicentre
Takeo Aoyama (L) and Takayuki Kato (R), Japanese businessmen residing in Wuhan, speak to journalists during a press conference following their charter flight on Jan 29, 2020. (Photo: AFP/CHARLY TRIBALLEAU)

A total of 206 Japanese citizens landed at Tokyo's Haneda airport on Wednesday morning, with health professionals carrying out checks on board and at the airport, but no mandatory quarantine was planned.

Four passengers who said they felt unwell were taken to hospital on arrival, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said, but there was no confirmation yet of whether they were infected with the virus.

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.

Takeo Aoyama, a Nippon Steel employee who arrived on the evacuation flight, described confusion in Wuhan, with travel restrictions intended to contain the virus making it hard for those in the epicentre to know what was happening.

"The number of patients began increasing rapidly at a certain point. That was very worrying," he told reporters at the airport.

"We were not able to move freely, so we only had partial information. The restrictions on the flow of goods and transport were extremely strict," he said.

'VERY ALARMED'

He said food was available, but supply was uncertain, with shops selling out on some days.

"It wasn't a situation where we couldn't get anything at all. But it wasn't a situation where you could get anything freely, either," Aoyama said.

Takayuki Kato, who worked in Wuhan for the firm Intec, said the atmosphere inside the city had changed as the scale of the crisis became clear.

"Everyone in the city began wearing masks. On the 23rd, when transport was shut down, I became very alarmed," he said.

He said he was careful to wash his hands and rinse out his mouth, and hoped that would be sufficient to keep him healthy.

The evacuation had gone smoothly, he said. The flight "was quiet. People were cool-headed".

The Japan flight 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 and administer health questionnaires.

'SELF-QUARANTINE'

All passengers will be tested for the new strain of coronavirus, which has killed more than 130 people and infected thousands.

And while there were no plans to confine the arrivals, the evacuees would be asked to remain at home in "self-quarantine" at least until the results of their tests were known, officials said.

Those with somewhere to stay in and near Tokyo would be allowed to head there, while those wanting to go further afield would 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.

AFP

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