An A380 jet left Portugal on Thursday to repatriate more than 300 EU citizens from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, Portuguese broadcaster Sic Noticias reported.
Lisbon’s foreign ministry said the plane, operated by Portuguese charter airline Hi Fly, was bound for China in a discreet operation to bring out Europeans based in the city in central Hubei province with Beijing’s cooperation.
“We estimate around 350 passengers to come back. They are all European and many nationalities, including Portuguese,” the flight’s Greek captain Antonios Efthymiou told Sic Noticias before the flight left Beja airport some 170 kilometres (105 miles) south of Lisbon.
“We are in contact with our medical department, first of all, and the French government,” Efthymiou added.
Portuguese daily Publico reported the French government had chartered the aircraft, adding it would make a stopover in Paris to receive medical personnel and then headfirst to Hanoi, Vietnam, before going on to China on Friday.
“We have begun the repatriation operation, an operation coordinated at European level and with Chinese authorities,” Augusto Santos Silva, Portugal’s minister for foreign affairs, told broadcaster Antena 1.
“All Portuguese who have requested repatriation will be a part of this operation,” said Silva. He explained there were some details he was not at liberty to divulge “in order to guarantee the efficacy of this operation (which) must be carried out with the necessary discretion to succeed. We must be prudent.”
The toll from the epidemic rose Thursday to 170, the Chinese government said, with more than 7,700 people infected.