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Coronavirus: Europe prepares quarantines as countries begin to fly citizens back home


European governments ramped up flights Saturday to bring their citizens back from China amid the outbreak of a new virus that has sickened thousands of people.

A German air force plane arrived in Frankfurt carrying 128 passengers who were expected to spend two weeks quarantined at a military base. Russia sent military aircraft to evacuate citizens from Wuhan and other areas of China most affected by the virus.

The German plane’s arrival was delayed after it was refused permission to stop in Moscow to refuel and change crews. Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the aircraft received clearance to fly over but not to land because of what Russian authorities said was insufficient capacity.

“Together with the Foreign Ministry, we will certainly discuss next week what other reasons there are beyond the official explanation about insufficient capacity at the Moscow airport,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said.

Russia’s RIA-Novosti news agency cited an unnamed aviation source as saying Russia was not giving permission to any third-country evacuation flights to make stops. Russia’s aviation authority could not be reached for comment.

The Bavaria state Health Ministry on Saturday night reported Germany’s eighth confirmed case of the new virus, a 33-year-old man who lives in Munich and works for the same company as six of the other infected patients.

The news brought the total number of people in Europe known to be infected with the virus up to 23: Germany with eight, France with six, Russia, Italy and the U.K with two a piece, and Finland, Sweden and Spain each with one.

More repatriation flights are planned for Sunday, including to France. Of the 180 French people flown back from Wuhan on Friday, one showed symptoms of being infected with the virus and was sent to a Marseille hospital for testing, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said.

The other passengers are being quarantined for 14 days at a large, isolated Mediterranean resort not far from Marseilles on the edge of Carry-le-Rouet. The plane being dispatched Sunday also is expected to transport seven Austrians.

A flight taking off from Wuhan on Sunday is due to land at a military base in Rome early Monday bearing 70 Italians who will be be quarantined for about 14 days, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said. None of the returning Italians have shown any signs of contagion, Di Maio said.

Italian Foreign Ministry officials also plan to meet with Chinese Embassy representatives in Rome about how to get Chinese tourists, business people and others back to China. They are stranded due to a ban on flights to or from China the Italian government put in place on Thursday.

The Italian consumer advocacy group Codacons has urged Catholic faithful to consider watching Pope Francis’ appearance at a Vatican window on TV instead of flocking Sunday to St. Peter’s Square, where tens of thousands of tourists and Romans gather each week to glimpse the pontiff. The group said the Catholic Church should consider suspending public Masses as well.

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