08:05 GMT26 February 2020
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    China's Wuhan is ground zero for the latest strain of the coronavirus, dubbed 2019-nCoV, or more commonly the Wuhan virus that has spread to at least 19 countries, infecting 9,356 people in China alone.

    The Chinese Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday that Beijing prepared special charter flights to return Wuhan residents from abroad to the epicenter of the virus-hit Hubei province.

    "Given the fact that residents of Hubei province, especially residents of Wuhan, have recently faced real difficulties abroad, the Chinese government has decided to send Charter flights as soon as possible and deliver them directly to Wuhan", the statement said.

    The Chinese aviation watchdog earlier green-lighted the drafting of charter flights for domestic air carriers to bring Chinese tourists from abroad back to the mainland over the rapidly spreading outbreak.

    The 11 million people of the city of Wuhan have de-facto been cordoned off from the other provinces. Public transportation services have reportedly been suspended in the city. Air and ground transport with the rest of mainland China has been cut off.

    As of Friday, the epidemic has left 213 people dead. While the number of people exposed to the new strain of coronavirus continues rising, Chinese officials continue to assert that they are confident that the outbreak will be quickly contained.

    Authorities have globally suspended air traffic to and from China, increased border and airport control, and put travelers with even slight traces of flu symptoms into isolated wards under quarantine.

    The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus has already surpassed the number of cases of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) during the 2002-2003 outbreak, caused by another type of coronavirus.

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