Photo/Illutration Officials board a Japanese government-chartered plane to depart for Wuhan on Jan. 28 at Tokyo's Haneda International Airport. (Takuya Tanabe)

BEIJING--The return of more than 200 Japanese from virus-hit Wuhan went off mostly without a hitch on Jan. 29. But for embassy officials here, coordinating the unprecedented evacuation has been nothing short of a scramble.

With hundreds of Japanese remaining in the locked-down city in central China, embassy officials in Beijing rushed to fix travel arrangements for the first flight to Tokyo's Haneda International Airport on the day.

After Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Jan. 26 the plan to send chartered aircraft to Wuhan to evacuate Japanese nationals, Japanese Embassy officials were tasked with contacting expats living in Hubei province based on lists of registered residents.

It was the first time for the government to evacuate Japanese overseas due to an infectious disease.

Companies based in China and the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) have helped with the process of locating residents to determine if they wish to return to Japan.

Those who do were asked to submit their contact information and where they are staying to the embassy.

About 10 embassy officials drove more than 10 hours from Beijing to Wuhan after the announcement to set up arrangements to transport returnees to the airport starting from the morning of Jan. 27.

Departing passengers were instructed to meet at one of about 30 designated locations, such as Shangri-La Hotel and the main entrance of Wuhan University, both centrally located, to be picked up.

About 650 people in Hubei wanted to return to Japan.

However, as travel within the province has been restricted, officials were concerned that some may not make it to Wuhan in time for the evacuation.

Embassy officials therefore limited eligibility for the first flight to Japan to those who live in Wuhan, notifying them by e-mail.

Officials put the highest priority on residents living close to the seafood market in Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have first spread, as they are considered to be at high risk of infection.

Difficult negotiations with Chinese government officials also hampered coordinating the operation.

"The major bottleneck was how to handle Chinese nationals with Japanese spouses and Japanese nationals living outside Wuhan," an embassy official said.

"There are some issues that we have not reached an understanding on with our Chinese counterparts," said a Japanese government official. "But our highest priority is to bring back those who want to return to Japan and are ready to do so as soon as possible."

The schedule for the first flight was delayed because Wuhan airport has been largely shut down since the outbreak flared.

The death toll is already over 100, with nearly 6,000 confirmed infected in more than 15 countries. This new strain causes pneumonia-like symptoms.

The first flight from Japan left for Wuhan on the evening of Jan. 28, and those planning to leave only received an e-mail around noon the same day, saying that the flight for Tokyo would depart before dawn the next day.

A Japanese man who lives in Wuhan said that he hadn't received any "detailed instructions" about a chartered flight following the prime minister's announcement.

"Some of my friends were worried whether they could actually return," he said. "But it seems that many people were relieved to be informed about the prospect of going back to Japan."

The chartered flight was operated by All Nippon Airways Co.

The government sent chartered aircraft overseas to evacuate Japanese nationals when the security situation deteriorated in Indonesia and Egypt, among others, in 1998 and 2011, respectively.

The returnees from Wuhan are expected to pay about 80,000 yen ($734) plus tax for the one-way flight, which is equivalent to an economy-class full-fare ticket for the route.

(This article was written by Masayuki Takada, correspondent, and Azusa Kato.)