Fearing infection, residents protest coronavirus evacuees landing in Ukraine

By Pavel Polityuk

KIEV, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Residents in central Ukraine protested the arrival of a plane carrying evacuees from China's Hubei province on Thursday, fearing they could be infected with the coronavirus despite authorities insisting there was no danger.

Protesters from the village of Novi Sanzhary blocked the road leading to a sanatorium where the evacuees are due to be held in quarantine for at least two weeks to make sure they were not carrying the virus.

Hundreds of police were dispatched to keep order, and some were seen dragging some protesters away from the crowd at the demonstration, which the authorities said had started overnight.

The protest prompted President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to issue a statement reassuring Ukrainians that there was no danger, that the authorities had done everything possible to make sure the virus would not spread to Ukraine.

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

"Attempts to block routes, block hospitals, not allow Ukrainian citizens into Ukraine - this does not show the best side of our character. Especially when you consider that most passengers are people under 30 years of age. For many of us, they are almost like children."

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In addition to 45 Ukrainians, there were 27 citizens of Argentina on the plane that landed in Ukraine on Thursday, as well as citizens from the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Kazakhstan, Costa Rica and other countries.

The Ukrainian authorities say all passengers on board had been screened twice for the virus before being allowed to fly, but that was not enough to quell the protesters.

"I ask people not to sow panic - everything is fine. All who are on board they are healthy," Kharkiv regional Oleksiy Kucher told a televised briefing.

Ukraine has no confirmed cases of the virus.

China reported a drop in new cases in the province at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday, though the death toll so far at over 2,000 has made it one of the biggest global health emergencies in recent decades. (Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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