BEIJING: An advanced team of officers from the Malaysian Embassy in China is on the way to Wuhan as part of efforts to rescue and evacuate Malaysians stranded in the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
The team – led by Minister Counsellor Samsul Kahar Kamarudin and comprising officers from various departments and ministries – began their journey from the capital at 10.30am yesterday.
Malaysian Ambassador to China, Raja Datuk Nushirwan Zainal Abidin, said the team was expected to take at least 12 hours to drive to Wuhan about 1,200km away.
“Driving is the most straight forward way to reach Wuhan because the public transport services in and out of the city have been suspended, ” he said.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in Hubei province, central China, has been put on a lockdown since Jan 23 in a bid to stop the deadly viral outbreak from spreading.
Nushirwan said the number of people to be repatriated, including Malaysians and their foreign spouses, stood at 120 as of yesterday.
“A slight majority of them are in Wuhan.
“We will see what arrangements can be made for those in other places to get to the city. (For) this one, our team will have to discuss with the local authorities there, ” he said.
He also commended the team members for being very enthusiastic and agreeing to immediately go to the city, which had seen the bulk of the over 200 deaths from the virus.
The team, said Nushirwan, had to ensure that all those to be repatriated had their proper documents as well as make logistics arrangement.
As for the departure date, he said the Foreign Ministry would make the announcement.
“Hopefully, everything will go smoothly, ” he said, thanking the Chinese authorities for their understanding and cooperation.
The evacuation mission is being carried out following the Cabinet’s decision on Jan 29 to bring home Malaysians stuck in Wuhan and its surrounding cities.
On Friday, it was announced that the operations room at Wisma Putra had been activated and that Malaysians stranded in Hubei province could expect to be evacuated “any day” now.
A source had said that the Malaysian government was still in talks with the Chinese government for permission to evacuate Malaysians who were either working or studying in the affected areas.
“The activation of the ops room in Wisma Putra does not mean that the Malaysians in the affected areas will be evacuated right away but the evacuation can happen any day.”
Other countries have evacuated their own nationals from China due to the coronavirus outbreak.