The United States and Japan on Wednesday airlifted hundreds of their citizens from the city of Wuhan in China’s Hubei province that is the epicenter of a deadly coronavirus outbreak, AFP reported. The virus has killed at least 132 people and spread to many countries across the globe. On Wednesday, the first case was reported in West Asia.

A flight chartered by the State Department left Wuhan with about 200 Americans on board, including employees from the US consulate. “These travellers will be carefully screened and monitored to protect their health, as well as the health and safety of their fellow Americans,” said State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus.

Wuhan is on virtual lockdown, and transportation in much of Hubei has been curtailed. About 200 people were also aboard Japan’s flight out of the city. Medical professionals were present on the flight to carry out health checks but Japan’s health ministry said there were no plans to quarantine the passengers. The evacuees would be asked to remain at home and avoid crowds till the test results are known.

As the infections spread, numerous countries scrambled to get citizens out of Wuhan. But they are reportedly facing huge logistical, medical and bureaucratic hurdles. The European Commission has activated its Civil Protection Mechanism, under which it will co-fund two planes to bring European Union citizens back from Wuhan. France had requested assistance to provide consular support to European Union citizens.

Australia said it would help some of its citizens leave and quarantine them on Christmas Island. Meanwhile, British Airways suspended all direct flights to and from mainland China after Britain warned against all but essential travel to the country.

China says it will provide necessary assistance

Meanwhile, the Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing would make all appropriate arrangements and provide necessary assistance if any country “insists” on evacuating its citizens, PTI reported.

“China attaches great importance to protecting the lives and health of citizens of all countries in Wuhan, Hubei province, and will continue to take active and effective measures to address their legitimate concerns and demands in a timely manner,” the foreign ministry said in response to a question.

“If a country insists on evacuating its citizens in Wuhan, China will make appropriate arrangements and provide necessary assistance and convenience in accordance with international practice and China’s relevant provisions on epidemic prevention,” it added.

The Indian Embassy in Beijing circulated registration forms and consent notes to Indians in Wuhan and Hubei province, The Indian Express reported. The embassy has informed the evacuees that they need to undergo a 14-day quarantine in a designated city upon their arrival in India. The name of the city has not been disclosed yet.