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France to evacuate citizens from China's virus-stricken Wuhan

France has deployed a medical team to Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport to take charge of arrivals who showed symptoms of the contagious virus (AFP Photo/Alain JOCARD)

Paris (AFP) - France will fly home citizens who wish to leave Wuhan, eastern China, the city at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak that has sickened thousands and killed 82, the government announced.

Their repatriation via a direct flight to France could take place in the middle of this week, with Chinese permission, under the supervision of medical experts, Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said late Sunday after an emergency cabinet meeting called by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

The number could "range from a few dozen to a few hundred," Buzyn said, adding that consular authorities in Wuhan were doing a headcount.

Junior foreign minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne told France Info radio Monday that "other Europeans are turning to France," and added: "We are also working to assist the return of a certain number of European nationals" on what could turn out to be several planes.

France and Britain are the only two European countries with consulates in Wuhan.

About 500 French citizens have registered with the consulate but Lemoyne estimated the total number there to be probably around 1,000, including staff and family of automaker PSA and students.

The Chinese government has sealed off Wuhan and neighbouring cities, effectively trapping tens of millions of people -- including thousands of foreigners -- to contain the coronavirus.

The United States has also said it would arrange a flight to evacuate personnel and citizens trapped at the epicentre of the virus outbreak.

Buzyn said that on their return, repatriated French citizens would "stay in a holding area for 14 days", which is the estimated virus incubation period.

PSA said Saturday that it would repatriate expat staff and their families -- 38 people in total -- from Wuhan.

With coronavirus diagnosed in three people who had recently been to China, France is the first European country with confirmed imported cases.

Six suspected cases are being analysed, Buzyn said.

On Sunday, Paris cancelled a parade for the Lunar New Year, celebrated by the city's large Chinese community, as a "precaution", according to Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

Celebrations planned for Bordeaux were also cancelled.

France has deployed a large medical team to Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport to take charge of arrivals who showed symptoms of the contagious virus.

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