A plane has left South Africa headed to China’s coronavirus epicentre of Wuhan to repatriate more than 120 citizens stranded there since the outbreak began in January.
“Go with speed, with God and bring our children back home,” President Cyril Ramaphosa reportedly told the dozens of military staff and health officials boarding the flight at Johannesburg’s main airport on Tuesday night.
The plane is due to stop over in the Philippines first to refuel, before heading to China.
It is scheduled to leave China on Friday and land in South Africa later that day.
The mission will cost almost $1.6m (£1.2m), according to a letter President Cyril Ramaphosa wrote to parliament.
A total of 122 South Africans are to be repatriated, authorities say. That’s fewer than the 180 people who originally said they wanted to be brought back.
Those who dropped out decided to “stay on at their respective commitments”, according to a government statement.
None of the people being repatriated have showed any signs of coronavirus infection, South African authorities said in a statement, but they will all be subject to a 21-day quarantine period.
South Africa currently has seven confirmed cases of the virus.