Croatia, which took on the six-month rotating European Union presidency on January 1, on Tuesday activated the EU’s Integrated Crisis Response, IPCR, to the coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed dozens of lives in China.
The mechanism supports rapid and coordinated decision-making at an EU political level in case a crisis occurs, and provides concrete tools to streamline information sharing.
“The [EU] Presidency has taken this step proactively to ensure that the EU Member States are prepared for all possible developments,” it said.
The EU Civil Protection Mechanism has also been activated following a request from France for support for EU citizens trapped in Wuhan, the city in central China where the outbreak has occurred. The EU will reportedly co-finance the transport costs of the aircraft bringing them home.
“The EU does not forget its citizens in need, wherever they are in the world… Our EU Emergency Response Coordination Centre is working 24/7 and is in constant contact with the Member States, the EU Delegations in the region and the Chinese embassy in Brussels,” Janez Lenarcic, the Commissioner for Crisis Management, said.
Japan and the US have already evacuated hundreds of their citizens from Wuhan.
But numerous European nationals remain trapped there. They include four Croatian citizens and three Bulgarian students. Three Romanian nationals are also in the wider Hubei region, whose capital is Wuhan. None of them has been affected.
The Croatian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that it had offered to evacuate Croatian nationals who want to leave Wuhan in cooperation with the EU.
The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said its three students were in contact with the embassy and were discussing ways to get home.
Romania has not announced plans to evacuate its citizens from China.
Two Moldovan citizens in Wuhan have asked the Moldovan authorities for help. The Moldovan Foreign Ministry has contacted them through social media networks and is keeping them informed about the situation, it said.
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic confirmed that one Serbian citizen who had been in Wuhan had arrived back in Belgrade and had gone through medical controls. “He feels well and has no coronavirus symptoms,” national broadcaster RTS quoted Dacic as saying on January 29.
Dacid said that he was one of five Serbian citizens known to be staying in Wuhan. “One Serbian citizen refuses to leave China while three await evacuation from the city, which may be done with the help of France,” Dacic added.
China is under pressure to contain the spread of the virus that has reportedly killed 132 people so far. Hubei province is already under virtual lockdown.