FILE PHOTO: European Union flags fly outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Commission said on Tuesday it could help finance the repatriation of Europeans affected by the coronavirus, which is spreading quickly in China, through a so-called EU Civil Protection Mechanism.

A spokesman for the bloc’s executive told a news briefing that there had not been any requests so far from EU member states for help with repatriation of citizens.

Countries around the world are planning to evacuate diplomatic staff and private citizens from Chinese areas hit by the new coronavirus.

Wuhan, a city of 11 million in the province of Hubei and the epicenter of the outbreak is in virtual lockdown and much of Hubei, home to nearly 60 million people, is under some kind of travel curb.

“The Commission is working at all levels to monitor the situation regarding the spread of the Coronavirus,” a spokeswoman said, adding that it had activated a “rapid alert system” to share information constantly within its departments.

An EU Emergency Response Coordination Center (ERCC) is also discussing with member states potential actions, including the use of the civil protection mechanism if requested, she said.

“The mechanism can … facilitate the transport of specialized equipment for screening of the virus such as thermal imaging cameras, and more importantly the mechanism can also be used for the repatriation of EU nationals from China,” a Commission spokesman added.

Reporting by John Chalmers

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