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France to repatriate citizens from Wuhan as virus spreads

PARIS – France's government announced Sunday it will repatriate up to hundreds of French citizens from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of a deadly new virus.

Those French citizens who want to leave Wuhan will be taken on a direct flight to France in the middle of the week, and then held in quarantine for 14 days, the French health minister announced, after a special government meeting to discuss the spreading virus.

France is joining other countries planning evacuations from Wuhan, which is under lockdown by the Chinese government in an attempt to halt the spread of the pneumonia-like virus that has killed more than 50 people and infected nearly 2,000 people in China.

The U.S. Consulate in Wuhan announced it will evacuate its personnel and some private citizens aboard a charter flight on Tuesday.

French hospitals are treating three confirmed cases of the new coronavirus — the first infections reported in Europe — and more are likely, officials said. The confirmed cases are all Chinese citizens who recently returned from travels there.

"The prime minister asked for the organization of a repatriation via direct flight, in agreement with the Chinese authorities,” Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said. A special medical team will accompany the flight.

French automaker PSA, which produces Peugeot and Citroen cars, said Saturday it was evacuating its expatriate employees and their families from Wuhan and quarantining them in another city. It didn't elaborate.

French medical teams on Sunday began meeting passengers arriving on flights from China at Paris' Charles de Gaulle and other airports. Earlier, the government only posted small signs in airports about the new virus, alongside signs about other, older global viruses.

France has decided not to take the temperatures of arriving passengers because it “provides a false sense of safety,” the health minister said on LCI television earlier Sunday. She said in each of France's three confirmed cases, they arrived without a fever.

Buzyn said there was no reason for France's general public to go outside with masks.

She also said a decision to cancel a Chinese New Year's fete in Paris, which has a large Chinese population, wasn't based on a medical decision. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the city's Chinese residents were simply not in the mood for a party, given the spread of the virus.

The Chinese community in Rome said there won't be any public celebrations of the Lunar New Year on Feb. 2 either for the same reason.

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Alex Turnbull in Paris contributed to this report.