India, Bangladesh eye evacuating citizens from China coronavirus epicenter

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India and Bangladesh said on Tuesday they are working on evacuating their citizens from China’s Wuhan, the epicenter of a new coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 100 people.

Indian state airline Air India was on standby to evacuate an estimated 250 Indians from Wuhan in Hubei province, local media reported earlier.

“We have begun the process to prepare for evacuation of Indian nationals affected by the situation arising out of Corona-2019 virus outbreak in Hubei Province, China,” Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said in a tweet.

He said Indian authorities were working out the logistics of moving people out of the city of 11 million people that is under a lockdown.

In Bangladesh, Foreign Minister Abdul Momen said talks were underway to bring back Bangladeshi citizens from China.

The death toll from the virus rose to 106 on Tuesday as authorities scrambled globally to curb its spread and U.S. health authorities advised travelers to avoid all non-essential travel to China. A growing number of countries have said they will evacuate their citizens from Wuhan.

The virus has infected thousands of people in China and spread to more than a dozen countries, including the United States.

There are no confirmed cases of the virus yet in India, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Tuesday, adding authorities were screening suspected patients in multiple cities. All hospitals had been asked to keep those suspected to have the virus in isolation wards, he added.

“We are taking all precautions against it,” said Vardhan. Seven major airports in India including New Delhi and Mumbai were screening all passengers coming into India from China.

No one in Bangladesh has been found to have the virus yet either, Bangladeshi Health Minister Zahid Maleque told reporter, but the government was prepared if infections surfaced.

More than 400 Bangladeshi citizens, mostly students, are stranded in Wuhan under the lockdown. Many took to social media to urge Bangladeshi authorities to evacuate them.

Momen, the Bangladeshi foreign minister, told reporters that the government was keeping a close watch on people coming in Bangladesh from China.

“We are keeping their records so that we can track them if something goes wrong,” he said.

Officially known as “2019-nCoV”, the coronavirus can cause pneumonia, but it is too early to know just how dangerous it is and how easily it spreads.

Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani, Ruma Paul and Zeba Siddiqui; Editing by Mark Heinrich