February 4, 2020 / 10:19 PM / 20 days ago

Brazil sending two planes to evacuate citizens from virus-hit China

BRASILIA, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Brazil on Tuesday obtained authorization from China to fly two planes to the city of Wuhan at the center of the new coronavirus outbreak to evacuate Brazilian citizens who asked to be repatriated.

Defense Minister Fernando Azevedo said two 36-seat Embraer C-190 planes flown by the Brazilian Air Force will leave on Wednesday morning and make refueling stops in Spain and Poland and arrive in Wuhan on Friday.

Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo said 29 people, including four family members who are Chinese nationals, would be evacuated, as well other Brazilians who live outside Wuhan.

The passengers, medical staff and the crew of the planes will be quarantined for 18 days at an Air Force base in Anapolis, 150 kilometers (93 miles) west of the capital Brasilia.

President Jair Bolsonaro said last week that repatriating Brazilians from Wuhan would not be “opportune” as it could put the population back home at risk. He changed his mind over the weekend when some of the 55 Brazilians in Wuhan posted a video appealing to Bolsonaro to get them out.

In their six-minute video here posted on Youtube, the Brazilians noted that other nations where evacuating their citizens with the help of Chinese authorities, and they pleaded with Bolsonaro to rescue them.

Wuhan has been under virtual lockdown since Jan. 23. Airlines around the world have stopped flights to parts of China as cases of the virus there topped 20,000.

Hong Kong reported its first coronavirus death on Tuesday, the second outside mainland China from a fast-spreading outbreak that has killed 427 people and threatened economic supply chains around the world.

Brazil has had no confirmed cases of coronavirus. Health authorities are checking 13 suspected cases in the states of Sao Paulo, Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina and Rio de Janeiro, after dismissing 14 other cases, the health ministry said.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle Editing by Bill Berkrot

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