Coronavirus: Britons returning from Wuhan to be quarantined for two weeks

29 January 2020, 03:10 | Updated: 29 January 2020, 23:51

Britons who are due to be flown back to the UK from the Chinese city of Wuhan and province of Hubei over coronavirus fears will be quarantined for two weeks.

About 200 British nationals are expected to board a chartered flight from Wuhan - the epicentre of the outbreak.

The plane had been set to take off on Thursday but the Foreign Office has indicated that will now not happen as several countries' flights have been unable to take off.

It is understood the UK passengers will have to sign up to a 14-day period of isolation and whatever treatment is recommended by experts.

It is not yet known where the flight will land or where the quarantine facility will be located.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We are doing everything we can to get British people in Wuhan safely back to the UK. 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. We remain in close contact with the Chinese authorities and conversations are ongoing at all levels."

Flights suspended

Earlier on Wednesday, British Airways suspended all flights to mainland China as the number of coronavirus cases in the country surpassed the SARS epidemic.

The airline, which operates daily flights to Shanghai and Beijing from Heathrow, said the cancellations are in effect until 31 January following advice from the Foreign Office warning against "all but essential travel".

The BA website appears to show they are not taking any bookings for direct flights to mainland China until 1 March.

A BA spokeswoman apologised but said the safety "of our customers and crew is always our priority", as it directed passengers due to travel to and from China in the coming days to its website.

German airline Lufthansa also cancelled all its flights to China.

A total of 170 people have died from the coronavirus in China as a whole, with 162 of those in Hubei province. There have been 7711 confirmed cases on the Chinese mainland.

Wuhan is the epicentre of the virus and was placed under lockdown by the Chinese government last week, prompting other countries including Britain and the US to start evacuating their nationals from the city.

The Foreign Office is advising people in other parts of China to "make decisions based on their own personal circumstances".

Any British nationals in Hubei province had to let the British Embassy know they wanted to leave before 11am local time on Wednesday ahead of a planned evacuation flight at 7am local time on Thursday.

Khan Lambert, a British teacher in Wuhan, told Sky News the embassy told British nationals they will have to organise their own transport to Wuhan airport and also from Heathrow to their homes before self-isolating for 14 days.

However, the health secretary said evacuees will be looked after and placed in isolation with medical assistance.

Infection risk increasing

A Beijing health official said the number of cases in the capital is on the rise and the risk of being infected in the city is increasing. Beijing has confirmed one death and 102 cases so far.

Governments around the world are advising people not to travel to China as uncertainty remains over how dangerous the new virus is and how easily it spreads between humans.

It is from the same family as the common cold, as well as SARS.

There have been confirmed cases in countries across Asia, North America and Europe, although there have been no fatalities outside China.

On Wednesday, four people from the same Chinese family in the UAE were confirmed as having coronavirus, state-run news agency WAM reported.

In the UK, the Department of Health said as of 2pm on Wednesday 130 tests had been carried out but all had been confirmed as negative for the virus.

People who have recently returned to the UK from Wuhan have been urged to "self-isolate" for two weeks.

Some nations are taking more drastic action to try to to avoid any major outbreaks, with the Philippines issuing a temporary blanket ban on tourist visas for Chinese nationals and handing out 100,000 free masks to the 130,000 Filipinos living in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong will cut all rail links to mainland China and halve the number of flights, while Beijing has agreed to halt travel permits for Chinese visitors to the city.

Japan chartered a flight carrying 206 evacuees from Wuhan which landed early on Wednesday in Tokyo.

Wuhan is one of 17 cities in Hubei province that China has cut off access to, trapping more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease control measures ever imposed.

The city of 11 million people is building two hospitals in a matter of days to add 2,500 beds for treatment of patients with the virus, with authorities warning it is getting stronger and they are unclear on its potential to mutate.

Researchers from The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne have said they have grown a version of the virus that could be used to develop a vaccine.

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It was grown from a patient sample received last week and will be used to generate an antibody test, which allows detection of the virus in patients who have not yet displayed any symptoms.

Dr Julian Druce said: "The virus will be used as positive control material for the Australian network of public health laboratories, and also shipped to expert laboratories working closely with the WHO in Europe."