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Airlines suspend China flights as WHO calls emergency coronavirus meeting

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Airlines began suspending flights to and from China Wednesday as the World Health Organization (WHO) called an urgent meeting over whether a viral epidemic that has killed 132 people and infected around 6,000 others should be declared a global health emergency.

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The flight suspensions came as some countries began airlifts of their nationals trapped in Wuhan, the quarantined Chinese city of 11 million people at the centre of the epidemic.

Among 206 Japanese nationals who returned home Wednesday, 12 were hospitalised for tests after they reported they felt unwell or showed flu-like symptoms.

A growing number of governments—including the United States, Britain and Germany—have advised their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to China.

China has urged its own citizens to delay trips abroad, with at least 18 countries having confirmed cases of the disease.

In Geneva, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the organisation “deeply regrets” its reports last week that referred to the global risk of the outbreak as “moderate” instead of “high”.

A meeting of WHO experts could on Thursday upgrade it further.

“I have decided to reconvene the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on the new #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) tomorrow,” Tedros said on Twitter.

I have decided to reconvene the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee on the new #coronavirus (2019-nCoV) tomorrow to advise me on whether the current outbreak constitutes a public health emergency of international concern. pic.twitter.com/993YBQ6hol

— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) January 29, 2020

British Airways was the first major airline to announce a suspension of flights to and from China, citing the travel advice of the foreign office.

It was followed by German flag carrier Lufthansa, one of Europes largest airlines, which said all flights to mainland China would be suspended until February 9.

The announcement included subsidiaries Swiss and Austrian Airlines.

Indonesias Lion Air Group, Southeast Asias biggest carrier by fleet size, said it would halt services to and from China from Saturday, and airlines from Myanmar and Nepal followed suit.

Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific has reduced flights, citing low demand and the city governments response plan to the virus.

Meanwhile Kazakhstan, an important China trade partner, stopped issuing visas to Chinese citizens and said it would halt cross-border passenger train traffic and suspend flights.

In one of the most dramatic measures, the tiny Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea announced no travellers from Asia would be allowed in.

Foreigners escape

China has taken extraordinary measures to try and stop the disease spreading, including bans on tour groups travelling overseas, suspending schools and extending the Lunar New Year holiday.

Most street traffic in and around Wuhan has been banned in an unprecedented quarantine effort, leaving more than 50 million people shuttered in their homes.

“This is the first day since the lockdown that Ive had to go out,” a man in his 50s told AFP on the mostly deserted streets of the industrial city on Wednesday.

“I have no choice because I need to buy food.”

Countries have scrambled to get their citizens out of Wuhan safely, but have faced logistical, medical and bureaucratic hurdles.

A US charter flight from Wuhan with about 210 Americans on board—including consulate staff—was met at a California military base on Wednesday by emergency vehicles with flashing lights and personnel in white biological hazard suits.

The evacuees will be monitored for symptoms and sent to local hospitals if they are found to be ill, the US defense department said.

Some 250 French citizens and 100 other Europeans will be flown out of Wuhan on board two French planes this week.

The Italian government said it would send an aircraft on Thursday. Up to 70 Italians are reportedly in Wuhan.

France said it would keep its returnees in a holding facility in Paris for 14 days—the esRead More – Source