Coronavirus: Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel to Wuhan

22 January 2020, 19:22

Public transport will be shut down in Wuhan
Public transport will be shut down in Wuhan. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

The UK Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to the Chinese city of Wuhan where the coronavirus is believed to have originated from.

It comes as the UK government announced all direct flights from Wuhan, Hubei province, will be subject to enhanced monitoring.

A spokesman said: "In light of the latest medical information, including reports of some person-to-person transmission, and the Chinese authorities' own advice, we are now advising against all but essential travel to Wuhan.

"The safety and security of British nationals is always our primary concern, and we advise British nationals travelling to China to remain vigilant and check our travel advice on"

The death toll from the deadly disease is thought to have risen to 17 people.

People arriving into London Heathrow from Wuhan, Hubei province, will be sent to a separate area in the terminal. The checks were introduced after the US recorded its first case of the virus.

The risk to the UK population has been upgraded from very low to low by Public Health England.

Baroness Blackwood told the House of Lords that the risk to UK citizens "is currently low" but the country is "well prepared" should cases of the disease be detected on British soil.

She told peers that the Government is "monitoring closely the development of this virus."

The Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to Wuhan
The Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to Wuhan. Picture: PA

There are three direct flights a week from Wuhan to Heathrow Airport and under the new measures planes will be taken to an isolated area of Terminal 4.

The captain of each flight will tell passengers during landing to let a flight attendant know if they feel unwell.

These details will then be passed on to public health teams at the airport who will carry out further checks.

Chinese state media has said the city of Wuhan is stopping outbound flights and trains due to the rapid spread of the deadly disease.

The People's Daily newspaper tweeted that from 10am local time nobody would be allowed to leave the city.

It also said Wuhan authorities would be shutting down public transport, with city buses, subways, ferries and long-distance shuttle buses all affected.

The FCO website was updated on Wednesday
The FCO website was updated on Wednesday. Picture: FCO

The Department of Health and Social Care said precautionary measures are being put in place after cases of the virus spread across the world.

More than 440 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Hubei province and officials have said at least 17 people have died there, according to the Associated Press.

World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus said they needed more information before deciding whether to declare an international public emergency.

"I have decided to ask the emergency committee to meet again tomorrow to continue the discussion & the chair has agreed with that request," he said.

"The decision about whether or not to declare a public health emergency of international concern is one I take extremely seriously, and one I am only prepared to make with appropriate consideration of all the evidence."

The WHO had been expected to declare a Public Health Emergency of International Concern in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Professor Neil Ferguson, director of the Medical Research Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, said the estimated number of people infected with coronavirus in Wuhan is around 4,000, with a range between 1,000 and 9,700.

Asked whether it was possible the virus had already reached the UK, Prof Ferguson said he could not rule it out.

He said: "We can't rule out that possibility.

"Border screening, and in this case, in the UK, alerting the health system is not 100% foolproof - there could be a mild case.

"The UK is not a major destination of visitors travelling out of Wuhan around the world though.

"So I would say it was unlikely, but can't be completely sure."