As the list of countries both shutting their borders to China and canceling major carrier flights in and out of the country grows, Russia is set to take drastic action by airlifting its nationals out of the country via Air Force planes.
"The evacuation of Russian nationals from China on the Aerospace Force’s aircraft is scheduled for February 3-4, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Saturday," reports TASS news agency, which further indicated the evacuation order came directly from President Putin.
This also after the first two cases of coronavirus in Russia were confirmed on Friday. Two Chinese nationals have been quarantined in the Siberian region of Tyumen and the far eastern Zabaykalsky region, and are expected to recover.
Russian authorities promptly restricted direct flights to China and shut the massive land border with China, which extends over 4,000km. No doubt this will have significant economic impact for both countries, given China remains Russia's largest and most important trading partner.
Peskov announced further in the Kremlin statement: "Due to the fact that it has taken certain time to finalize the coordination of flight information by the Chinese side, the evacuation of Russian nationals from China by planes of the Aerospace Force will be carried out on February 3-4."
Russian media reports have indicated there remain 300 Russians in Wuhan, with another 341 across Hubei province. Peskov also indicated Saturday that while all Russian nationals will be taken out by Monday and Tuesday, "They will start carrying out [evacuation] flights as of today."
And Russia's embassy in China said in a Sunday statement: "We have established contact with 202 fellow countrymen and 130 of them have expressed readiness to leave the Hubei province."
Russia joins a growing list of others who have sent emergency charter flights or military aircraft to take evacuate their citizens trapped in quarantined Wuhan, including the US, France, Germany, Britain, Canada, Japan, Spain and others.
But then a crucial question remains: at this late point could the evacuation flights set to commence Monday simply be unwittingly be bringing the deadly virus back into Russia?
Russian authorities have said they will take extreme precautions, including making each returnee spend at least 14 days in quarantine.