British citizens are expected to be evacuated from China’s Wuhan city on flights starting tomorrow [Thursday] and to be put in quarantine for two weeks on their return home.
British Airways has suspended all direct flights to and from mainland China with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advising against “all but essential travel” to mainland China, and “all travel to Hubei Province due to the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak.”
An FCO statement said: “If you’re in this area [Hubei] and able to leave, you should do so.”
The government is expected to evacuate 200 British citizens from Wuhan tomorrow and health secretary Matt Hancock has instructed officials to quarantine them for two weeks. He tweeted: “We are working hard to get British nationals back from Wuhan. Public safety is the top priority. Anyone who returns from Wuhan will be safely isolated for 14 days, with all neccessary [sic] medical attention.”
Coronavirus spreading ‘more quickly than Sars’
The virus has so far killed 132 people with the number of those infected surging to almost 6,000 – already more than the number infected by the Sars virus in 2002-03 which killed hundreds and triggered a global emergency.
The BBC’s China correspondent Robin Brant said the number of coronavirus deaths and infections continues “to increase daily at a significant rate” with the death toll up 20% on yesterday and infections up nearly 30% – according to official figures from the Chinese government.
Brant said the virus appears to be “less deadly” than SARS but is “spreading more quickly” with several countries confirming cases of the virus including the United Arab Emirates and Tibet.
The US and other countries have already started evacuating their nationals from Hubei province. Japan has evacuated more than 200 citizens on two flights. They are examined during the flight and those not showing symptoms are asked to stay indoors for two weeks. Australia has taken a more severe stance with its evacuated citizens – numbering around 600 – being quarantined on Christmas Island. Australia confirmed its sixth case of the virus today (January 29).
UK – ‘risk to public remains low’
A statement released by Public Health England said: “As of Tuesday 28 January 2020, there are currently no confirmed [coronavirus] cases in the UK or of UK citizens abroad, and the risk to the public remains low.”
Dr Yvonne Griffiths, a university lecturer from Cardiff is still in Wuhan after her flight was cancelled on Monday (January 27). The 71-year-old had been in the Chinese city for three weeks on behalf of Birmingham University and has been told by the British consulate to be on stand-by for a flight back to Britain.
Griffiths told the BBC she has been instructed to be at the airport 6-7 hours before the flight leaves and that passengers will have a health screening at the airport. If no symptoms are detected, they will be allowed to fly home, said Griffiths, adding: “If we were to be suffering temperature or any other symptoms or breathing problems then there seems to be a possibility of quarantining at this end [in China].”
Her daughter Bethan Webber has already criticised the government’s action to date, having said: “The Foreign Office advice is just ridiculous, they’re telling everybody to leave and in the next sentence that everything is shut down.”
On her mother’s predicament, Webber said: “Short of the government getting her out there’s no getting out.
“They say they’re reviewing and monitoring the situation but they don’t really know who’s there, there’s no contact with the people that I know are there to be able to monitor it effectively.”
The FCO said they are “working to make an option available for British nationals to leave Hubei Province. This may happen quickly and with short notice.”
China – ‘medical facilities under significant pressure’
China’s efforts to contain the virus include temperature checks at transportation hubs and other locations, with quarantine arrangements and restrictions on travel around the country. Some businesses and “many tourist attractions are closed” and travel companies’ tours and activities have been suspended.
The FCO said medical facilities across China “are under significant pressure” with some “not accepting patients” whilst “others have long queues.”
The FCO said: “If you’re a British national in Hubei Province and need assistance, contact our 24/7 number +86 (0) 10 8529 6600 or the FCO in London on (+44) (0)207 008 1500. If you have registered your desire to leave [Hubei], you will be contacted once arrangements are confirmed.”