LISBON, Portugal (AP) -- European countries stepped up
efforts Thursday to contain the virus sweeping through central China, sending a
chartered plane there to evacuate hundreds of citizens, scrapping more
commercial flights to Chinese destinations and closing Russia’s long border
with the Asian giant.
Italian authorities kept some 7,000 people on board a cruise
ship for nearly a day while they checked one passenger for a possible
An A380 evacuation flight took off Thursday morning from a
former Portuguese military airport at Beja, 120 miles southeast of Lisbon,
carrying just its pilots and crew.
Capt. Antonios Efthymiou said the flight was going first to
Paris to pick up a team of doctors and extra crew before heading to Hanoi and
then China. He told Portuguese media it would bring back about 350 Europeans.
He said the crew would take special medical precautions but did not elaborate.
China has reported 170 deaths and at least 7,800 infections
have been confirmed worldwide from the virus that emerged last month in the
central city of Wuhan. Sports, transport and cultural events have been
cancelled across the country and over 50 million people are under a government
lockdown in central China.
In Europe, there have been 10 confirmed cases of the virus
so far: five in France, four in Germany and one in Finland.
In Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin issued a
decree ordering the temporary closure of the country’s border with China, which
extends for 2,600 miles. In addition, all train traffic between the two
countries, except for one train connecting Moscow and Beijing, was stopped
Britain said its delayed repatriation flight for 200 U.K.
citizens in Wuhan would leave there on Friday, with the returning Britons
quarantined for 14 days upon arrival. The U.K.-government chartered plane had
been due to return earlier but it was delayed because permissions form the
Chinese government had not come through.
Italian health authorities did not allow 6,000 passengers
and 1,000 crew aboard a cruise ship docked north of Rome to get off after a
passenger from Macao came down with flu-like symptoms. The Costa Crociere
cruise line said the 54-year-old woman and her partner, who had no symptoms,
were immediately put into isolation Wednesday and the case reported to Italian
“All the planned mechanisms were activated. Health
authorities are on board, doing checks,” Italian Coast Guard Cmdr. Vincenzo
Leone said at the port of Civitavecchia. “The situation is under control. There’s
a security cordon on the dock.”
The ship was sailing from Mallorca, Spain, to Civitavecchia
on a weeklong Mediterranean cruise. Later Thursday, just over 1,000 passengers
were allowed off the ship for a walk through sunny Rome.
The Czech Republic announced it was stopping issuing visas
to Chinese citizens due to the outbreak. More than 600,000 Chinese tourists are
estimated to have visited the Czech Republic last year, especially its
old-world capital city of Prague.
On the retail front, Swedish furniture and home goods
retailer IKEA announced all its stores in mainland China would remain closed to
protect customers and staff from the outbreak. The stores are a favorite haunt
of Chinese city dwellers, both for shopping and for just hanging out.
More European airlines announced halts in service to China,
all citing efforts “to protect the health and security of customers and staff.”
Air France suspended all its regular passenger flights to
and from China until Feb. 9. The French carrier had already suspended flights
to Wuhan, the epicenter of the viral outbreak, and reduced traffic to Beijing
and Shanghai. Air France said it will run special flights starting Thursday to
bring back some customers and employees from Beijing and Shanghai.
Scandinavian Airlines announced it was halting all its
flights to Beijing and Shanghai beginning Friday and running through
Feb. 9th. SAS has 12 regular weekly flights from Scandinavia to China.
Spain’s Iberia national airline halted the three return
flights a week it runs between Madrid and Shanghai due to the virus, a move it
said would continue through February.
Finnish national airline Finnair said it has stopped
accepting new bookings on its flights to mainland China.
Those announcements followed earlier moves to halt or reduce
flights to China by other European airlines, including British Airways,
Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Swiss and KLM.
Norway, which is not part of the EU, said it was working
with other European countries to get Norwegians out of China.
The virus comes from the coronavirus family, which includes
the common cold but also more severe illnesses, such as SARS and MERS.
Nicole Winfield in Rome, Ciaran Giles in Madrid, Karel
Janicek in Prague, Gianfranco Stara in Civitavecchia, Angela Charlton in Paris
and Daria Litvinova in Moscow
contributed to this report.