Spain, Portugal work to repatriate nationals from coronavirus-hit Wuhan

MADRID (Reuters) - The governments of Spain and Portugal are working with China and the European Union to repatriate their nationals from the Wuhan area struck by the coronavirus, the two countries’ foreign ministers said on Monday.

The coronavirus outbreak has killed 81 people in China so far and infected more than 2,800 globally, most of them in China.

“We’re working ... with our consulate in Beijing, and officials in China and the European Union to repatriate around 20 Spaniards in Wuhan, Hubei, the epicenter of the coronavirus. We will continue to update on any advances,” Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya wrote on Twitter.

She did not provide further details.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva told state broadcaster RTP that the ministry was exploring whether Portuguese citizens in Wuhan could return on a civilian plane with citizens from other European countries.

“Unlike other countries such as the United States or France, who have large numbers of citizens in Wuhan and carry out their own repatriation programmes, it makes more sense for a country like Portugal, which has only a few citizens there, to carry out coordinated operations, if possible,” he said.

Media reports indicated that between 10 and 14 Portuguese citizens are in Wuhan. Three hospitals in Portugal are on alert to treat potential coronavirus cases. A suspected case involving a person returning from a short trip in Wuhan was deemed negative on Sunday, doctors said.

The British Foreign Office said on Monday that it was working to offer British nationals in Hubei province an option to leave, one day after France said it expected to evacuate hundreds of its 800 citizens from the area by airplane by midweek.

Evacuees will have to spend 14 days in quarantine to avoid spreading the virus in France.

The U.S. State Department said on Sunday it would evacuate personnel from its Wuhan consulate to the United States and will offer a limited number of seats to private U.S. citizens.

Reporting by Inti Landauro, Emma Pinedo in Madrid, Victoria Waldersee in Lisbon; Writing by Ashifa Kassam and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Alison Williams and Grant McCool