BRASILIA/SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazil will declare a national health emergency to prepare for the return of Brazilian nationals at the epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic in China, Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said on Monday.
The Health Ministry will ask Congress for the power to quarantine the Brazilian nationals potentially exposed to coronavirus, he said.
President Jair Bolsonaro on Sunday said the government will evacuate every Brazilian from Wuhan in the Chinese province of Hubei who wants to return home, and that they will be put in quarantine for a period.
On Monday, Mandetta said there are 40 Brazilians in Wuhan who want to be evacuated.
Brazilian authorities are monitoring 500 people for coronavirus symptoms, although Brazil has had no confirmed cases so far, he added.
The temporary decree may be sent to Congress later on Monday, Mandetta said. The decree and state of emergency should help ensure the government has access to funds to deal with the crisis.
Last week, Bolsonaro said repatriating Brazilians in the region would not be "opportune", as it could put the population back home at risk. He also cited the cost of such an operation and noted that Brazilian law may not cover putting people in quarantine.
But he appears to have softened his stance. Over the weekend, Brazilians in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, posted a video appealing to Bolsonaro to get them out.
(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu in Brasilia and Eduardo Simoes in Sao Paulo; Writing by Jamie McGeever in Brasilia; Editing by Alex Richardson and Lisa Shumaker)