By Kiyoshi Takenaka
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan sent a chartered flight on Tuesday night to Wuhan, the epicenter of China’s virus outbreak, to evacuate its nationals looking to return home, as the death toll from the new strain climbed to 106.
The Boeing 767 departed Tokyo’s Haneda airport shortly after 8 p.m. local time (1100 GMT), Japanese media reported. It is scheduled to return to Haneda at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Kyodo said.
Earlier, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters the flight could carry about 200 passengers, but added that about 650 Japanese citizens were hoping to head home.
The government is arranging for additional flights that will leave for Wuhan as early as Wednesday, he added.
“The Chinese side informed us that they were ready to take one charter flight,” Motegi said. “Also, measures (for Japanese nationals) to get to (Wuhan) airport have been arranged.”
“We will dispatch the first flight to Wuhan tonight, which will bring masks, protective suits and other support items for Chinese people and Japanese nationals there,” he added.
The flights will also have a doctor and two nurses on board for medical checks of those returning, a health ministry official said.
Those with symptoms such as fever will be sent to hospital on landing at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, he added, while those with no signs of virus can go home and then to work or school, but told to avoid crowds and take their temperatures twice a day.
Any who later develop symptoms such as fever, a cough or a sore throat will be asked to contact health officials.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet also decided to declare the new virus infection a “designated infectious disease”, so as to let authorities hospitalize even patients who refuse consent.
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Kevin Buckland; Editing by Kim Coghill and Gareth Jones)