Europe Sends Evacuation Flight to China to Bring 350 Home, Cruise Ship Checked

January 30, 2020 Updated: January 30, 2020

LISBON, Portugal—An A380 passenger plane left Portugal on Jan. 30 en route to pick up hundreds of Europeans in China who want to escape the new virus and Italian authorities were keeping some 6,000 passengers on a cruise ship while they checked for a possible infection.

The plane took off from a former military airport at Beja, 200 kilometers (120 miles) southeast of Lisbon carrying just its pilots and crew.

Captain Antonios Efthymiou said the flight would go first to Paris, where it would 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.

Efthymiou described the flight as “a humanitarian mission.” He said the crew would take special medical precautions, but he did not elaborate.

More people have now been infected by the coronavirus in China than were sickened there during the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak.

In Europe, there have been 10 confirmed cases of the virus: five in France, four in Germany and one in Finland.

The Costa Smeralda cruise ship is docked in the Civitavecchia port near Rome on Jan. 30, 2020. (Andrew Medichini/AP Photo)

Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said the flight was coordinated between European Union countries and Chinese authorities. The flight, operated by Portuguese charter company Hi Fly, used the airport in Beja because it is the only one in Portugal big enough to handle the wide-body aircraft.

Scandinavian Airlines announced it was halting all its flights to Beijing and Shanghai due to the virus as of Friday until Feb. 9. SAS, which has 12 regular weekly flights from Scandinavia to China, said on Thursday that ”the safety of our passengers and employees is our highest priority.”

Meanwhile, Spain’s Iberia national airline said it is halting the three return flights a week it runs between Madrid and Shanghai because of the coronavirus health alert. The company said the suspension would start on Friday and continue through the month of February, although it could be extended.

That followed moves to halt or reduce flights to China by other European airlines, including British Airways, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Swiss, Air France and KLM.

Italian health authorities, meanwhile, were screening passengers aboard a cruise ship docked north of Rome after a passenger from Macao came down with flu-like symptoms, officials said on Thursday.

Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza addresses the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament in Rome on Jan. 30, 2020. (Roberto Monaldo/LaPresse via AP)

The Costa Crociere cruise line said the 54-year-old woman and her partner, who has no symptoms, were immediately put in isolation on Wednesday and the case reported to Italian maritime authorities. Passengers of the Costa Smeralda were being kept on board Thursday pending checks to determine the type of virus.

The ship had sailed from Mallorca, Spain, to Civitavecchia on a weeklong Mediterranean cruise.

By Barry Hatton