After riot, Ukraine minister to join China virus evacuees in bid to ease panic
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After riot, Ukraine minister to join China virus evacuees in bid to ease panic

Health minister to stay with people who had been in and around Wuhan, including Israeli, quarantined in village near Kharkiv, after locals clash with police, throw stones at buses

Ukrainian riot police run to push protesters, who planned to stop buses carrying passengers evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, outside Novi Sarzhany, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)
Ukrainian riot police run to push protesters, who planned to stop buses carrying passengers evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, outside Novi Sarzhany, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s health minister volunteered to spend two weeks in quarantine as authorities looked to ease panic Friday after protesters attacked buses carrying evacuees from coronavirus-hit China.

On Thursday, protesters had blocked roads and hurled stones at vehicles carrying 72 people evacuated from China and bound for a medical facility in the town of Novi Sanzhary in the central Poltava region.

The evacuees included Israeli Tomer Zvulun, who was given permission to leave the virus stricken Hubei province in China on Wednesday after Israeli diplomats intervened on his behalf.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said Zvulun would spend at least 14 days in quarantine in Ukraine before being allowed to return to Israel.

In this photo released by Ukraine’s Embassy in China, Ukrainians and foreigners pose for a photo before boarding the Ukrainian aircraft chartered by the Ukrainian government for evacuation in the airport of the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak Wednesday, Feb.19, 2020. (AP/Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry Press-Service)

According to Ukrainian officials, the 14-day clock will reset if any of the group is found to have the virus, once that person is moved to isolation.

Israel on Friday confirmed its first case of coronavirus after one of 11 Israeli travelers who returned to the country after being quarantined for the last two weeks on a cruise ship off Japan’s coast tested positive for the infection.

Protesters in Ukraine said they feared the evacuees would be carrying the virus and threatening their community.

Riot police with armored vehicles moved in to disperse the protesters, sparking clashes that injured nine policemen and one civilian.

Authorities called for calm, with senior officials rushing to the town and President Volodymyr Zelensky urging solidarity.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk, center, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, left, and Zoryana Skaletska healthcare minister attend a briefing in Novi Sarzhany, Ukraine, Feb. 20, 2020 (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

In a bid to allay fears, Health Minister Zoryana Skaletska said she would be joining the evacuees, who include 45 Ukrainians and 27 foreigners, in quarantine.

“I will spend the next 14 days with them, in the same premises, under the same conditions,” she said.

“These people are our compatriots… We live in one country and have to take care of their health and safety.”

Zelensky said “unprecedented” measures had been taken to prevent the spread of the virus across Ukraine.

He also urged Ukrainians to refrain from staging protests.

“Most of the passengers are people under 30. They are almost like children to many of us,” Zelensky said.

“But there is another danger that I would like to mention. The danger of forgetting that we are all human and we are all Ukrainians,” he said.

Security beefed up

The interior ministry said it had beefed up security in the town of 10,000 people, with some 200 police on patrol around the medical facility where the evacuees would be under quarantine.

“All of those who arrived yesterday from China, including doctors, are under observation. The situation in Novi Sanzhary now is calm,” the ministry said in a statement on Friday.

Police said criminal investigations had been launched after Thursday’s clashes.

Ukrainian riot police prepare to push back protesters, who planned to stop buses carrying passengers evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, outside Novi Sarzhany, Ukraine, Feb. 20, 2020. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)

A police spokeswoman told AFP that 24 protesters were briefly detained on Thursday, but that all except one had been released.

Ukraine has not confirmed any cases of the new coronavirus, which has killed more than 2,200 people and infected over 75,000 in China and 1,100 abroad.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the evacuees had been checked by Chinese and Ukrainian doctors and showed no symptoms.

“Let’s be a little more noble and generous,” he said.

Protesters had said the evacuees should be quarantined away from populated areas, instead of in a facility in their community.

Protesters, who planned to stop buses with passengers from the Ukrainian aircraft chartered by the Ukrainian government for evacuation from the Chinese city of Wuhan, speak to Ukrainian riot police blocking the road outside Novi Sarzhany, Ukraine, Feb. 20, 2020. (AP/Efrem Lukatsky)

Svitlana Ulynets said her home was only 50 meters (yards) from the facility.

“I live next door, and no one’s asked me about anything. Should I leave? I have a child at home. Do you really think I could support this?” she said at the demonstration.

Many Ukrainians took to social media to say they were ashamed of their compatriots’ behavior.

“The sick ones are not those who came back… but those who are on the streets with stones,” journalist Olga Tanasiichuk wrote on Facebook.

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