January 31, 2020 / 12:10 PM / 18 days ago

Myanmar turns back China Southern flight over coronavirus fears: government spokesman

International travelers wear face masks at the departure hall in Yangon International Airport in Yangon, Myanmar January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Ann Wang

YANGON (Reuters) - Authorities in Myanmar turned back a China Southern flight from Guangzhou with almost everyone on board on Friday after one of the passengers was found with flu symptoms similar to the fast-spreading coronavirus, a government spokesman said.

The plane arrived in the commercial capital Yangon and the passenger, a Chinese national, was sent to a hospital in the city where he will be quarantined, said government spokesman Zaw Htay.

Two Myanmar nationals who also disembarked have agreed to isolate themselves in their homes for 14 days, he told reporters at a press conference.

The plane returned to Gaungzhou with everyone else on board.

Myanmar has no confirmed cases of the coronavirus, which first emerged in China’s central province of Hubei and has infected almost 10,000 people since, mostly in and around Hubei.

There are no plans to close the country’s long and porous border with China or to ban Chinese travelers but Myanmar has introduced temperature screenings at airports and border gates, Zaw Htay said.

A group of about 60 Myanmar students studying in Wuhan, the Chinese city worst hit by the virus, will be flown to Mandalay on Sunday, he said.

Myanmar does not have the capacity to test for the virus in-country, and is sending samples from suspected patients to neighboring Thailand, Khin Khin Gyi, a Health Ministry spokeswoman, told Reuters.

Results are expected within a week, she said.

Reporting by Thu Thu Aung; Writing by Poppy McPherson; Editing by Frances Kerry

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