Spaniards trapped in Wuhan arrive in Madrid

A group of 21 Spanish citizens has been evacuated from the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak and will be quarantined at a military hospital

Evacuees inside the airplane taking them to London and Madrid.
Evacuees inside the airplane taking them to London and Madrid.Jaime Santirso

A group of 21 Spanish citizens who were trapped in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus, technically known as 2019-nCoV, arrived at the Torrejón de Ardoz airport in Madrid on Friday at 6.40pm.

Once the plane landed, two doctors boarded the aircraft and took the passengers’ temperatures. None of them had a temperature over 36.7ºC.

The aircraft, owned by the Spanish airline Wamos, was chartered by the United Kingdom and was also taking home British, Norwegian and Danish nationals.

The plane landed at the Royal Air Force base at Brize Norton in central England at 1.30pm local time on Friday, news agency Reuters reported. The British citizens were due to be taken to a National Health Service facility while the rest of the passengers continued on to Spain.

The Spaniards, Norwegians and Danes were to be quarantined for 14 days at the Gómez Ulla military hospital in the Spanish capital, the Health Ministry confirmed. There are two children among the group of Spaniards: a two-year-old girl and a months-old baby.

A long journey

Boarding the aircraft was a two-hour process as passengers were slowly allowed inside, after successfully going through passport controls and two health screenings.

The terminal where the airport bus left the passengers – including this reporter – was deserted upon arrival. Only a few workers in white suits were to be seen outside the building, along with the odd bus and an ambulance. This is where the first screening took place.

People handled the long wait as best they could. Some rearranged the possessions inside their suitcases – there was a weight limit of 15 kilograms per passenger. The group of Spaniards who work for the Wuhan Shangwen soccer club discussed who was a better all-around player, Míchel or Martín Vázquez.

“These final moments feel long, but they are protocols and bureaucratic steps that we have to go through,” said Pedro Morilla, the team’s technical director. “I’m looking forward to all of us getting through without trouble. We won’t be able to believe it when we’re sitting inside the plane.”

The evacuation list had 200 names on it, but only 66 people showed up. British authorities had indicated that anyone who thought they might be infected should stay behind, as there would be medical screenings at the airport and anyone with symptoms would be held back.

The journey began at around 9pm on Thursday local time, when people walked out of a hotel to the vehicles that would take them to the airport. The Spanish consulate had organized the routes and permits for the cars, whose drivers were personal friends of the evacuees.

Getting people to the airport had posed a significant challenge given the size of Wuhan, which covers a surface area 14 times that of Madrid. Some of the evacuees lived more than 30 kilometers from the airport. The Spanish consulate also had to arrange for local authorities to allow these private vehicles on the roads, where a transit ban has been in place since Sunday.

English version by Susana Urra.

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