China coronavirus: Anger among Britons stranded in epicentre Wuhan

27 January 2020, 10:19 | Updated: 27 January 2020, 13:05

Britons stranded in the epicentre of China's coronavirus outbreak have voiced anger at the UK government, saying they have heard "absolutely nothing" about how they can get to safety.

Up to 300 British nationals are believed to be stuck in Wuhan in China's Hubei province and the Foreign Office has urged them to leave the area if they can.

But authorities in Wuhan have closed all transport hubs, including airports and railway and bus stations, and the UK government is now examining the logistics of airlifting Britons out of the city.

British teacher Kharn Lambert, who lives in Wuhan, told Sky News "there is a lot of anger among the British community" in the city over a lack of contact from UK authorities.

He said he and his 81-year-old grandmother, who is visiting him, are stranded and she is running out of medication for a serious lung condition.

"It's getting pretty much into a serious situation for us now, so it's getting quite stressful," Mr Lambert said.

"She suffers with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and she's running out of medication at the moment. [She has] probably enough medication to last another week and then we're struggling to find out what we can do after that."

Asked what he thought the UK government should be doing to help its stranded citizens, Mr Lambert said: "A start would be to make contact with their citizens in Wuhan. We've heard absolutely nothing from them.

"I heard the home secretary on Sky News yesterday saying they're looking at various options. The first option should be contact your citizens in Wuhan."

The deadly coronavirus has killed 81 people in China and is likely to already be in the UK, according to England's director for health protection.

China has warned the ability of the coronavirus to spread is getting stronger and the number of confirmed cases has reached more than 2,700.

Mr Lambert said he believed the UK government was not acting quickly enough, adding: "They've not really said what they're going to do or how they're going to do it.

"Their advice on their website is 'If you're in Wuhan, get out.' I don't know how we're supposed to get out. We are locked into the city.

"It seems the most ridiculous thing to tell us to do when we can't get out of here."

Mr Lambert added: "There is a lot of anger among the British community at the moment because we're not being contacted, we're not being told what's going on.

"We see other countries contacting their citizens to try and help them in the best way they can and we've had absolutely nothing."

Mr Lambert said supermarkets in Wuhan were still open but the advice was to "only go out if you absolutely have to".

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"There's a ban on cars driving around the city, there's a limited supply of taxis and there's no public transport so that makes it more difficult to get around and get the supplies we need," he said.

Bethan Webber, whose mother, Birmingham City University lecturer Yvonne Griffiths, is stranded in Wuhan, told Sky News: "We're just a bit helpless and hopeless really because we don't have any means at this end to do anything about it.

"The advice from the Foreign Office so far is, at best, ridiculous and, at worst, hugely disappointing to the point of offensive really - stating that people should leave if they can and then in the next sentence stating that all transport links are on lockdown."

Meanwhile British teachers Jason Neal and Sophie Hunt, who have been working in Wuhan, said there had been no reassurance from the British authorities whom they have "struggled" to contact

Ms Hunt told BBC Breakfast that emailing and trying to ring the authorities had brought a "useless automated response back from the embassy saying not to go" to the area.

The UK government has said it "looking at all options" to help Britons stranded in Wuhan and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has reportedly ordered officials to examine the logistics of an airlift.

The Foreign Office has advised against all travel to Hubei province and told UK citizens: "If you're in this area and able to leave, you should do so."

It said anyone in the province who needs assistance can call a 24-hour helpline.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are working to make an option available for British nationals to leave Hubei Province due to the heavy travel restrictions and increased difficulty of accessing consular or medical assistance.

"The safety and security of British nationals is our number one priority. We continue to monitor developments and are in close touch with the Chinese authorities.

"If you are a British national in Hubei Province and require assistance please contact our 24/7 number +86 (0) 10 8529 6600 or (+44) (0)207 008 1500."