German air force evacuates stranded citizens from Wuhan

By dpa correspondents

Beijing/Munich (dpa) – A German air force plane took off from Wuhan in central China on Saturday to evacuate more than 100 people trapped in the city.

The Luftwaffe flew an Airbus 310 to Wuhan via Moscow with a team of paramedics on board, landing in the early morning on Saturday.

One woman, who did not want to be identified, told dpa the evacuees were anxious to depart as they had been waiting at the airport in Wuhan since Friday night for the plane to arrive in the early morning.

“I’m happy to be at the gate,” she said. “It was all pretty exhausting until here.”

Sources told dpa that around 90 Germans and 40 other nationals, who included the partners of German citizens, were due to fly back.

Several countries have already flown their citizens out of China, including the United States, Japan, South Korea, Jordan and Britain. Portugal also sent a plane to fly out EU citizens.

The plane would also deliver aid for authorities battling to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.

This includes 10,000 protective suits that were requested by China, Maas added.

Those on the plane are due to arrive in Frankfurt on Saturday afternoon and then be transferred to military barracks on the edge of the south-western town of Germersheim, where they will be quarantined for about 14 days.

Among the German citizens being repatriated, no one has been confirmed or is suspected of having contracted the deadly new strain of coronavirus.

In Germersheim, people were mostly calm about the news that the returnees would be placed in isolation in their town.

“We survived the French, we survived the hippies – a virus from China will not kill us off right away,” 72-year-old Heinrich Gentner said, referring with the hippies to a legendary rock festival that was held in Germersheim in 1972.

The barracks are a nice fit for the quarantine, said district administrator Fritz Brechtel: “It is a demarcated site. For the people, single rooms with sanitary areas are available in a big building.”

German Research Minister Anja Karliczek called for people to remain level-headed, even if she said it is understandable that the quickly rising numbers could worry many people in Germany.

“We have to remain level-headed and we will deliberately focus on the scientific facts,” she said, noting that work is under way in different international locations on the development of a vaccine.

The biotech company CureVac in the south-western German city of Tuebingen on Friday announced that it will receive funding of up to 8.3 million dollars from the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus.

The German Centre for Infection Research is also working on a vaccine.

It will take at least one year to assess if a vaccine works and is safe, Stephan Becker of the Philipps University of Marburg estimated.

The evacuation comes as cases of coronavirus in China rose to more than 11,000, while a total of 259 people have died, Chinese health officials said on Saturday.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany rose to seven on Friday after authorities in Bavaria said a sixth employee of automotive parts supplier Webasto tested positive for the virus.

Earlier on Friday, the ministry confirmed that the child of an infected Webasto employee had fallen ill with the virus, which originated in China and has since spread to more than 20 countries around the world.

Webasto, a car parts supplier based in Stockdorf in the district of Starnberg, has 13,400 employees and 12 sites in China. Its biggest factory is in Wuhan, the city where the coronavirus first emerged in December.

Webasto’s Stockdorf location was visited last week by an infected staff member from China who only began experiencing symptoms during her flight back home.

Both father and child were placed in isolation at a hospital, authorities said. The case marks the first time in Germany that a relative of an infected person has fallen ill.

Authorities assume that the entire family is infected, although its other members still have to undergo follow-up testing.

All those with confirmed infections in Germany are in stable health, the ministry said.

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