SINGAPORE: Ninety-two Singaporeans arrived home from Wuhan, the epicentre of a virus outbreak, on Thursday (Jan 30) morning.
"Ninety-two Singaporeans will arrive in Singapore from Wuhan, Hubei via Scoot flight TR121 this morning," said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in a press statement on Thursday.
The plane departed Wuhan for Singapore at about 7am and landed in Singapore at about 11.40am, according to Scoot.
Separately, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong told reporters that some Singaporeans are unable to come back because they are already symptomatic.
He said it was "not safe" for them to be on the same plane as the 92 Singaporeans who returned home on Thursday morning.
"But in any case, I think the vast majority of them are already back, and they are not symptomatic, but to be safe, all of them will be subject to quarantine," Mr Wong added.
"The ones who are remaining ... our embassy is in touch with all of them, to ensure their welfare, to ensure that they're okay.
"Some are symptomatic and they may well have to stay quarantined in China itself, but we are in touch with all of them.
"I don't have the numbers off hand but there are not that many – vast majority are already back."
TEMPERATURE SCREENING, CHECKS CONDUCTED
Scoot had suspended its Singapore-Wuhan return flights from Jan 23 to Mar 29, after Chinese authorities locked down the Hubei province.
The airline had organised a flight from Singapore to Wuhan on Wednesday night to fly back some of the passengers who wanted to return to Wuhan but were affected by the cancellations.
The flight landed in Wuhan Tianhe International Airport at about 3am on Thursday.
MFA consular officers accompanied the flight to "facilitate the ground operations at Wuhan", the ministry said.
To ensure the safety of employees and passengers, temperature screening was conducted at check-in and before boarding, said Scoot in a statement.
"Any passengers found to be febrile would not have been allowed to board," said Scoot.
Surgical masks were provided to all passengers and all operating crew members were required to wear N95 masks and surgical gloves on board the flights.
The flight operated with "limited in-flight service", with no distribution of food and drink or sale of duty-free products. Food packs were pre-placed on the seats, said the airline.
"This greatly limited the physical interactions between passengers and crew," it said.
The aircraft was disinfected in Wuhan before passengers boarded the flight home, and the plane was again disinfected upon arrival in Singapore.
MFA said the returning Singaporeans will undergo medical screening when they arrive at Changi Airport.
Those with fever or respiratory symptoms will be taken to designated hospitals for further examination, while the remaining passengers - including the consular officers - will be quarantined for 14 days.
In a telephone call with China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan expressed the Government's appreciation to China's government, the Hubei provincial government, the Wuhan city government, and the Chinese Embassy in Singapore for "facilitating the safe return of these Singaporeans", said MFA.
"Glad to know that 92 Singaporeans from Wuhan have returned this morning," Dr Balakrishnan said in a Facebook post.
"MFA officers in Beijing have been in regular communication with them since the city was locked down a week ago. We will always look out for Singaporeans in distress overseas."
"THEIR ORDEAL IS OVER"
Welcoming the 92 Singaporeans home, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan praised the "dedication and sacrifice of many agencies and colleagues" who helped facilitate the flights.
He thanked the Scoot pilots and crew and officers from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore, Changi Airport Group, Immigrations and Checkpoints Authority and Ministry of Health.
"Scoot TR121 from Wuhan which touched down this morning at Changi is special," said Mr Khaw in a Facbook post. "It carried the 92 Singaporeans who were stuck in Wuhan when (the People's Republic of China) decided to lock down the city. You can imagine their anxiety and fear!
"Their ordeal is over, though we have to put them under quarantine for 14 days."
Also writing on Facebook, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and NTUC Secretary-General Ng Chee Meng said he "couldn't be more proud" of Scoot staff union leaders and members for stepping forward "to serve our fellow Singaporeans without hesitation".
"It warmed my heart to know that when Scoot management asked for volunteers to staff a flight to Wuhan Tianhe International Airport, there were more volunteers than was needed," he said, praising the pilots and crew who flew to Wuhan and back.
"Thank you to all parties who worked hard in helping to bring home Singaporeans who had been unable to come home due to travel bans," he added.
DEATH TOLL IN CHINA CLIMBS
The return of the 92 Singaporeans on Thursday comes as the death toll from the coronavirus hit 170 in China, with more than 7,700 people infected in the country.
The vast majority of these cases were in the Hubei province, where the first cases of the virus were reported.
Foreign governments have been flying their citizens out of the area, as the number of deaths jumped and the World Health Organization voiced "grave concern" about person-to-person spread in three other countries.
In Singapore, 10 people are confirmed to have the coronavirus so far, with the latest three cases announced on Wednesday.
The authorities have announced measures to contain the virus, including restrictions on visitors who have travelled to Hubei recently and visitors who hold passports issued in Hubei province.
They have also implemented temperature screening for all incoming flights and a compulsory leave of absence for students and teachers returning from China.