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Uzbekistan Repatriates Dozens More As Central Asia Frets Over Coronavirus

Uzbek citizens, mainly students, who were evacuated from China are seen after landing at Tashkent Airport on February 4.
Uzbek citizens, mainly students, who were evacuated from China are seen after landing at Tashkent Airport on February 4.

Uzbekistan Airways has returned 84 Uzbek nationals from the Chinese city of Wuhan, amid rising fears among Central Asian nations over the possible spread of the deadly coronavirus from its giant neighbor.

The Uzbek Health Ministry said in a statement on February 5 that the majority of those repatriated were students studying in China, and that "none of them is suspected of having the new coronavirus."

A day earlier, 250 Uzbek students were brought to Tashkent by chartered plane. All of them were checked for coronavirus and health authorities said the same day that all of the tests for the virus were negative.

China's National Health Commission said on February 5 that nearly 500 people in mainland China have died from the virus, with a total of 24,324 confirmed cases.

The outbreak has prompted Uzbekistan to suspend commercial air travel with China on February 1. Authorities have also issued a travel alert for China, and the State Tourism Committee has recommend that local travel agencies and tour operators suspend sales of travel packages to China.

Lying in China's shadow, countries throughout Central Asia have been scrambling to keep the virus at bay.

In Kyrgyzstan, a representative of the World Health Organization, Nazira Artykova, said on February 5 that, if need be, Bishkek will ask a London-based virology lab for help.

Earlier, on February 3, Kyrgyz authorities said that neighboring Kazakhstan had assisted in evacuating 18 Kyrgyz citizens from Wuhan, a city of almost 11 million people that is considered the epicenter of the outbreak, and placed them in a two-week quarantine for testing.

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On February 2, the Kazakh government said that it had evacuated 88 of its citizens from Wuhan, along with an unspecified number of Armenian, Belarusian, and Kyrgyz nationals, and placed them to a two-week quarantine for checkups.

In Tajikistan, the Ministry of Health and Social Protection said that, in all, 285 Tajik nationals who arrived from China in recent weeks had been placed in medical facilities for checkups.

As of February 5, no Wuhan coronavirus cases had been confirmed in any of the Central Asian nations.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Tajik, and Uzbek services
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