KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia said on Wednesday (Feb 5) it hoped to bring back civil servants from its foreign affairs ministry and other government agencies located in China next week, following the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country which has killed nearly 500 people.
Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said the officers together with their families would be brought back by commercial flights in stages "as soon as possible", depending on the availability of flights.
Malaysia has consulate offices in eight cities in China including Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Kunming, Nanning, Shanghai, Xi'an and Taipei with a total 34 Foreign Ministry officials, Saifuddin said.
The officials are in China with 77 dependents, he added.
Meanwhile, there are a total of 52 officers in other government agencies such as the Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation, Malaysian Investment Development Authority and Tourism Malaysia, who are with 135 dependents, he said.
READ: Four-year-old coronavirus patient in Malaysia discharged from hospital
Not all civil servants, however, will be brought home, Saifuddin said, adding that "couples and children" will be prioritised.
"From that figure, we will evaluate how many people (officers) need to stay and how many will be taken home as we will only leave behind the number of employees either from the foreign ministry or the agencies that are really needed right now," he said.
"For couples and children, we intend to bring home as soon as possible."
Saifuddin said flying the officials back would not affect work in China as "some task could not be done" because many cities in China have been placed on lockdown.
FOOD SUPPLY SHORTAGE
The decision to take them home was also due to concern of shortage in food supplies if the situation persisted, Saifuddin said.
He, however, added that food supplies are "still high" and the Malaysian government would also send food China for the officers and their families.
READ: Malaysia confirms first citizen case of novel coronavirus; man was in Singapore for meeting attended by Chinese delegates
Saifuddin said those who are brought home will have to go through the same screening process before boarding the plane in China. They will also be screened once again and quarantined upon their return.
When asked if there were any plans to bring back its other citizens from other parts of China, Saifuddin said the matter would be discussed later due to the large number of Malaysians in China.