China coronavirus: Britons in Wuhan 'very scared' as infections pile up

28 January 2020, 11:09 | Updated: 28 January 2020, 14:08

Britons stuck in locked-down Wuhan as cases of the new coronavirus increase say they are "very scared" and have heard "absolutely nothing" from the UK government.

Joe Armitt, a teacher in the huge central Chinese city, told Sky News: "I speak for the majority of British expat community in Wuhan when I say this is a scary situation.

"A lot of us are very scared - we're putting a brave face on it - but most of us are very scared and would like to be repatriated now.

"I certainly would like to be repatriated.

"I've been in contact with the Foreign Office and registered that I'm here and that I would like to return home as soon as possible."

Mr Armitt said government officials were "doing a lot more now but initially the response was very disappointing".

"Many other foreign embassies have made more of an effort to reach out to their expatriate population and get a list down on who was in the country," he said.

"I think the Foreign Office was quite slow in reaching out to the expat community and starting to compile a list."

There are believed to be about 300 UK citizens still in Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province.

The virus is believed to have started in the city which is now largely closed off to the outside world - but Sky News understands Britain and China will work on a possible evacuation in the next few days.

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

He said he and his 81-year-old grandmother, who is visiting him, were stranded and she was 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."

Bethan Webber also told Sky News on Monday that her mother - who is stranded in Wuhan - had an "increasing sense of worry about the virus".

"Reports are saying the rate of infection is increasing and the virus is getting stronger, so (she's) obviously worried about that and the risk being heightened for her.

"She is safe in a hotel at the moment, she's being well fed and looked after, but obviously the risk is still there and we're very worried and anxious.

"We don't know how we're going to get her out of this situation."

Ms Webber said she felt "helpless" because she is unable to directly help her mother, Yvonne Griffiths - a lecturer at Birmingham City University.

Speaking On Tuesday, British transport secretary Grant Shapps encouraged people to contact the consulate and said officials were still trying working out exact numbers as "not everybody wants to be repatriated".

He said: "The first thing we have to do is to establish the number of people there - that work has been ongoing.

"We don't automatically have a list of people that happen to be in the region... not everybody wants to be repatriated, and we are working on arrangements with international colleagues to do that."

On Tuesday, UK health officials said 97 had been tested for the virus but all were negative.

People who have recently returned from Wuhan recently have been urged to "self-isolate", while England's director for health protection has warned the virus may already be in the UK.

China has said 106 people have now died due to the outbreak, with cases spiralling to some 4,515 across the country.

Despite spreading outside China, the World Health Organisation has not yet classified the virus as a global emergency.

Do you know somebody who has returned to the UK from Wuhan who is now self-isolating ? - Contact Sky News on WhatsApp - 07583 000853; news@sky.com; or 'Your Report' on Sky News apps.