Ukraine's effort to evacuate more than 70 people from China over the outbreak of a new virus faced setbacks Thursday as weather conditions delayed the return of the evacuees and protests broke out near a hospital where they were to be quarantined.
Several hundred residents in Ukraine's Poltava region protested seeking to stop officials from quarantining the evacuees in their village because they feared becoming infected.
Demonstrators put up roadblocks and burned tires, while Ukrainian media reported that there were clashes with police. More than 10 people were detained, and Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov personally visited the site of the protests to calm the crowd down.
Avakov urged the protesters "not to fall for provocations and be understanding of the necessity for these temporary measures."
"The situation is rather heated," Poltava regional police spokesman Yuri Sulayev pointed.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy weighed in, saying the protests showed "not the best side of our character."
He tried to reassure people that the quarantined evacuees wouldn't pose any danger to residents of the village of Novi Sarzhany.
In a statement published on his Facebook page, Zelenskiy uttered the people evacuated from China are healthy and will live in a closed medical centre run by the National Guard in the village as a precaution.
"In the next two weeks it will probably be the most guarded facility in the country," Zelenskiy said.
In the early hours of Thursday, a plane with 45 Ukrainians and 27 other foreign nationals took off from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak that has infected more than 75,000 people worldwide and killed over 2,100.
Authorities stressed that those evacuated included people from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Argentina, Ecuador, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Panama, as well as other countries.
The plane stopped off in Kazakhstan to drop off Kazakh passengers. Later, it sought to land in Kharkiv, a city in northeastern Ukraine, but could not due to bad weather conditions.
Instead it flew to Kyiv to refuel, and eventually arrived in Kharkiv.
Also Thursday, the Russian Embassy in Japan said that two more Russians aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan have been diagnosed with the virus.
That raises to three the number of Russians on the ship confirmed to have the virus.
The two will be transferred to a hospital in Japan for treatment, according to the embassy.
In Slovenia, authorities said two of six Slovenian citizens who were on the cruise ship have been hospitalised in Japan after testing positive for the virus.
The four others have tested negative. Two of them have arrived back in Slovenia and will be quarantined at home for two weeks.
The Diamond Princess has been docked in the Yokohama port near Tokyo since February 4, when 10 people on board tested positive for the virus. So far 621 cases of the disease, which has been named COVID-19, have been confirmed among the the Diamond Princess' original 3,711 people on board.
Russia so far has reported only two cases of the disease on its soil. Two Chinese nationals diagnosed with the virus and hospitalised in two different regions of Siberia in late January have recovered and have been released from hospitals.
by Yuras Karmanau, Associated Press