PA: Steve Parsons/PA Wire/PA Images
Foreign Office officials are preparing to evacuate a second and final group of Brits from Wuhan, following the outbreak of the coronavirus.
UK citizens have been advised not to travel to China as reports of novel coronavirus worsen. There have now been more than 20,000 confirmed cases and more than 400 people have died from the disease since it broke out last month in Wuhan – the capital of China’s Hubei province.
In advice updated yesterday, the Foreign Office said: “If you're in China and able to leave, you should do so.”
The department has so far evacuated more than 100 British nationals and dependents from Wuhan, on a flight that left on 5am on Friday 31 January. The flight landed at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire – the Royal Air Force’s largest station in the UK – and its passengers were taken to Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral for a 14-day quarantine period.
The FCO has now confirmed it will charter a second and final civilian aircraft to Brize Norton on 9 February, as several airlines have suspended flights out of China.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the Foreign Office had been "working round the clock to help British nationals leave Hubei province, on UK, French and New Zealand flights".
"The Foreign Office is chartering a second and final UK flight with space to help all British nationals and their dependants remaining in Hubei to leave.
"I encourage all British nationals in Hubei to register with our teams if they want to leave on this flight."
The Chinese government had initially blocked the UK’s plan to bring citizens home, but last Thursday issued the necessary clearances.
“The safety and security of British nationals is our top priority,” Raab said.
“Our embassy in Beijing and consular teams remain in close contact with British nationals in the region to ensure they have the latest information they need.”
The Foreign Office has advised against all travel to Hubei province and “all but essential” travel to the rest of mainland China.
It has also pulled some of its own staff, along with their families, out of the British Embassy in China and withdrawn some of its consulates.
“Essential staff needed to continue critical work – including consular assistance – will remain,” the advice said.
“But the ability of the British embassy and consulates to provide assistance to British nationals from within China is limited, and would be even more limited in the event that the situation deteriorates further.”
In an initial statement last week, a spokesperson for the department said it was do everything it could to get British people in Wuhan back safely.
“A number of countries’ flights have been unable to take off as planned. We continue working urgently to organise a flight to the UK as soon as possible,” they said.
They added that officials were in close contact with the Chinese authorities and that conversations were meanwhile happening “at all levels”.
Two cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the UK. As of yesterday, 416 tests for the virus have been completed, of which two were confirmed positive.
In a statement last Friday, England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty – an epidemiologist – said the patients were receiving specialist NHS care, and “tried and tested infection control” were being used to prevent the virus spreading further.
“The NHS is extremely well prepared and used to managing infections and we are already working rapidly to identify any contacts the patients had, to prevent further spread,” said Whitty,
“We have been preparing for UK cases of novel coronavirus and we have robust infection control measures in place to respond immediately. We are continuing to work closely with the World Health Organization and the international community as the outbreak in China develops to ensure we are ready for all eventualities.”