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EU rescue bid as six Irish nationals among those still in virus zone

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Construction workers are building new hospitals in Wuhan

Construction workers are building new hospitals in Wuhan

Getty Images

Construction workers are building new hospitals in Wuhan

Irish people who are stranded in coronavirus-hit Wuhan and want to leave are expected to benefit from a move by the European Commission to start helping repatriate Europeans.

The Commission has activated its EU Civil Protection Mechanism, under which it will co-fund two planes to bring European Union citizens back from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the virus outbreak.

France had requested assistance to provide consular support to EU citizens in Wuhan.

"This is a first request for assistance and others may follow in the coming days," the Commission said.

Options

The Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin has indicated that it was exploring options, including commercial ones, for assisting Irish citizens to leave the region if required.

A small community of at least six Irish nationals are living in Wuhan.

Countries around the world are planning to evacuate diplomatic staff and private citizens from Chinese areas hit by the new coronavirus, which is spreading rapidly in the country.

A small number of cases have been confirmed elsewhere.

The EU will co-finance the transport costs of the aircraft, the first due to depart France today and the second due to leave later this week.

The Commission said around 250 French citizens would be on the first flight back and more than 100 citizens of other EU countries would be on the second. For now, only people showing no signs of the virus would be allowed to travel.

The EU's Emergency Response Centre was in contact with EU governments in order to co-ordinate returns and possible quarantine periods.

People who choose to return here from Wuhan will have to undergo medical assessment to determine if they have symptoms or could be incubating the virus.

It may mean that they will have to self-isolate for about two weeks before getting the 'all clear' and confirmation that they do not have the virus.

Psychology teacher Ben Kavanagh, from Kilcullen in Co Kildare, who is one of the Irish nationals in Wuhan, celebrated his birthday on his own this week because of the lockdown.

Mr Kavanagh, who has been living in Wuhan for almost two years, said he has enough supplies for up to 14 days.

"Everyone is keeping to themselves because there is such a long incubation period," he said.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong announced plans to slash cross-border travel between the city and mainland China as the new coronavirus continues to spread.

More than 100 people have now died in China, with confirmed infections surging to more than 4,500.

High-speed trains and ferries that cross the border will be suspended from tomorrow, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced. She wore a face mask while speaking.

Worrying

The virus has spread across China and to at least 16 countries globally.

On Monday, Germany and Japan confirmed that they had cases involving people who had not travelled to China but caught the virus from someone who had.

This had previously been seen only in Vietnam, which borders China and where someone was infected by his father who had travelled from Wuhan.

Although the emergence of such cases is "not too surprising", the German case is particularly worrying, experts have said.

This is because the Chinese woman who passed it on is not believed to have had symptoms at the time.