Countries began evacuating their citizens on Wednesday from the Chinese city hardest-hit by an outbreak of a new virus that has killed 132 people and infected more than 6,000 on the mainland and abroad.
A Japanese flight carrying evacuees home included four people with coughs and fevers. The three men and one woman were taken to a Tokyo hospital in separate ambulances for treatment and further medical checks.
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It wasn’t immediately known whether they were infected with the new type of coronavirus that appeared in the central city of Wuhan in December. Its symptoms, including cough and fever and in severe cases pneumonia, are similar to many other illnesses.
China’s latest figures cover the previous 24 hours and add 26 to the number of deaths, 25 of which were in the central province of Hubei and its capital, Wuhan.
The 5,974 cases on the mainland marked a rise of 1,459 from the previous day, although that rise is a smaller increase than the 1,771 new cases reported on Monday. Dozens of infections have been confirmed abroad as well.
The United Arab Emirates, home to long haul carriers Emirates and Etihad, confirmed its first case of the virus on Wednesday, the state-run news agency reported.
Daily The National quoted the UAE Ministry of Health as saying that the virus was detected in a family of four from Wuhan.
"All family members are in stable condition and the situation was contained by following the most necessary precautionary measures adopted globally when dealing with infected cases," the ministry said in a statement carried by WAM news agency.
Chartered planes carrying evacuees home to Japan and the United States left Wuhan early on Wednesday as other countries planned similar evacuations from areas China has shut down to try to contain the virus.
The lockdown of 17 cities has trapped more than 50 million people in the most far reaching disease control measures ever imposed.
A plane carrying Americans who had been in Wuhan left for Anchorage, Alaska, where they will be rescreened for the virus. US hospitals are prepared to treat or quarantine people who may be infected.
After departing Alaska, the plane is to fly to Ontario, California.
At the Tokyo airport, Takeo Aoyama, an employee at Nippon Steel Corp’s subsidiary in Wuhan, told reporters he was relieved to be able to return home.
“We were feeling increasingly uneasy as the situation developed so rapidly and we were still in the city,” Aoyama said, his voice muffled by a white surgical mask.
Tokyo Metropolitan Government confirmed the condition of the four ill passengers after the flight of 206 Japanese evacuees arrived. They were taken in separate ambulances to a Tokyo hospital for treatment and further health checks.
All of the passengers had their temperatures checked before boarding and on the plane, and plans had been made for all of the evacuees to be treated and quarantined depending on their test results.
Among those remaining in Wuhan was Sara Platto, an Italian animal behavior researcher and veterinarian, and her son, Matteo.
“My son turned 12 on January 23, the first day of the lockdown in Wuhan. So he couldn’t invite his friends over. We had a remote birthday celebration, with people ‘visiting’ him over Wechat,” Platto said, referring to China’s messaging app.
“We called it the epidemic birthday.”
Platto said there were 25 Italians stuck in Wuhan, some students, some very young, who stay in touch online for material and emotional support.
She has used her scientific background to offer advice and debunk sensational false news, reminding friends to wash their hands and faces often.
As much as panic, people spending most of their times indoors have to deal with boredom.
Matteo usually has a very busy agenda between his school, sports, and volunteer work, but now “it’s like suddenly everything has slowed down,” Platto said.
As with other international schools, classes are moving online until the all clear is sounded.
“We have most of what we need for now. I think it’s a serious situation, but we are not in zombie land,” she said.
Several countries have confirmed cases of the virus, with most of them being Chinese visitors, people who visited Wuhan or family members in close contact to the sick.
Japan’s six confirmed cases include a tour bus driver who drove visiting groups from Wuhan. Germany says four workers at an auto parts company possibly were infected when a colleague from Shanghai visited.