Ukraine minister joins China evacuees in quarantine after clashes

By: AFP      Published: 12:57 PM, 21 Feb, 2020
Ukraine minister joins China evacuees in quarantine after clashes

Ukraine's health minister said she will spend two weeks in quarantine with evacuees from coronavirus-hit China after protesters clashed with police and threw stones at returnees over infection fears.

Kiev's efforts to treat 45 nationals and 37 foreigners, mostly from Latin America, in the central Poltava region sparked unrest Thursday as residents blocked roads and hurled stones at buses carrying the evacuees. 

"I will spend the next 14 days with them, in the same premises, under the same conditions," Health Minister Zoryana Skaletska said late Thursday in a statement addressed to the residents of Novi Sanzhary.

The minister added that she was shaken by the panic and aggression. "These people are our compatriots," she wrote on Facebook. "We live in one country and have to take care of their health and safety."

Ukrainian officials including President Volodymyr Zelensky have sought to ease tensions but local residents said they feared the virus could spread.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov arrived at the scene and Prime Minister Oleksiy Goncharuk said late Thursday he was also heading to the town.

Zelensky urged compatriots to show solidarity and remember that "we are all human".

Authorities beefed up security in the town of some 10,000 inhabitants, deploying an armoured personnel carrier and hundreds of armed police.

Residents put up road blocks and clashed with riot police who had to disperse the protesters to open a road leading to a medical centre.

The demonstrators broke at least three bus windows, while some of the evacuees waved Ukrainian flags and others hid their faces behind curtains.

Ukraine has not confirmed any cases of the new coronavirus, which has killed more than 2,100 people and infected over 74,000 in China and hundreds more in over 25 countries.