Foreign diplomats in Wuhan are scrambling to assess the situation in the coronavirus-plagued city, with French officials planning to evacuate French nationals trapped by the Chinese government's lockdown.
The plan would allow French people who want to leave Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, to travel by bus to Changsha in neighbouring Hunan province, according to an email seen by the South China Morning Post.
"The consulate general, in collaboration with local authorities, plans to set up a bus service to allow French nationals … and their Chinese and foreign spouses and children to travel from Wuhan to Changsha," it said.
The email, sent by the French consulate, also asked anyone who received it to pass the notice on to other French nationals. It was not clear which bodies received the email and the date of the planned evacuation was not specified.
The consulate could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
France, the United States, Britain and South Korea all have consulates in Wuhan, according to China's foreign ministry.
The South Korean consulate said in a post on its website that it would suspend all visa applications "indefinitely until further notice".
A diplomatic source said several foreign embassies in China were considering plans to evacuate their nationals from Wuhan.
It is not known how many foreigners remain in the city, which has a population of about 11 million and has been under a government-imposed lockdown since Thursday morning.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement on Friday that Paris was monitoring the crisis and "can increase the power (to respond) if necessary".
There have so far been three confirmed cases of the new coronavirus in France, in Paris and Bordeaux.
The US said earlier that most of its consulate staff and their families had been pulled out of Wuhan.
An emailed inquiry to the British consulate in the city received only an automated reply, saying: "Wuhan is now in crisis mode. We may not be able to answer your emails for some time."
The consulate would be closed for the Lunar New Year holiday until January 31, it said.
Meanwhile, British citizen Kharn Lambert told the BBC on Thursday how he had been "trapped" in Wuhan.
The PE teacher said he was afraid to leave his house for fear of catching the deadly virus.
"If you saw the street behind me at night time where I normally live … if I show you out there now, it's dead," he said.
More than 1,280 confirmed cases have been reported across China, of which more than 700 were in Hubei, according to local government figures released on Saturday.
The death toll in Hubei stands at 39, with two other fatalities reported in the provinces of Hebei and Heilongjiang.
Tens of millions of people in Hubei are effectively on lockdown since a travel ban was imposed on most of the province.
Flights, trains, buses and ferries connecting Wuhan to other cities in Hubei have been suspended. Rail authorities in Wuhan, which is a hub for several major high-speed lines, said operations at 61 stations and more than 400 train services had been suspended until further notice.
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