Coronavirus: Britons told to leave China as death toll rises and more than 24,000 infected around globe

Travel advice amended as health secretary warns more UK cases expected

Samuel Osborne,Andy Gregory
Tuesday 04 February 2020 13:33
UK-wide Coronavirus information campaign launches

The Foreign Office has advised all British nationals to leave China due to the coronavirus outbreak, which has now killed 490 people and infected at least 24,000 others worldwide.

As officials attempted to trace 239 people who flew to the UK from Wuhan before travel restrictions were imposed, Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said: “The safety and security of British people will always be our top priority.

“As such, we now advise British nationals in China to leave the country if they can, to minimise their risk of exposure to the virus.”

Mr Raab added authorities were working “around the clock” to evacuate those still left in Hubei province, while Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said there were around 29,500 UK citizens residing in China.

The Foreign Office amended its travel advice after Mr Hancock said he expected more coronavirus cases in the UK and warned that “we haven’t seen the peak of the coronavirus by a long stretch”.

He added: “We have a full plan in place to treat all those who have symptoms and test positively for coronavirus and we are working with international partners both to slow the spread and also to do the research that we need to do to find a vaccine.”

The Foreign Office said commercial flights departing China were available throughout the country, except in Hubei, the epicentre of the virus.

The UK will charter a “last chance” rescue flight out of Wuhan for British citizens on Sunday, which will travel from Hubei province in central China to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

Some 94 UK nationals and their family members have already been evacuated from Wuhan to Britain on two flights which arrived on Friday and Sunday.

The evacuees are undergoing 14 days in quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral.

On Monday, the British embassy in Beijing announced that the last flights from China to the UK for British nationals were set to leave this week.

Concerns were raised on Tuesday, however, when a Belgian woman tested positive for the virus after reportedly travelling on the same evacuation flight as 11 UK citizens and their family members.

The flight carried passengers from 30 other countries. All those onboard who had continued to the UK are in supervised isolation and are being monitored for symptoms, a Public Health England official said.

The UK Department of Health also said it had conducted 414 tests for coronavirus, of which 412 were negative.

Two people, a student at the University of York and one of their relatives, are being treated for coronavirus in the specialist infectious diseases unit at Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary.

The death toll from the virus in mainland China has risen to 425, with the total number of cases at 20,438, Chinese officials said on Tuesday.

Timelapse video shows China's emergency coronavirus hospital built within 10 days

The second death from the virus outside of mainland China came as a 39-year-old man with an underlying illness, who had visited Wuhan, died in Hong Kong, where thousands of medical workers held a second day of strikes to press for complete closure of borders with the mainland.

Europe has 28 confirmed cases of the coronavirus – in the UK, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, Russia, Italy, France and Germany, where there are 12 cases alone.

The European Union’s medicines agency said on Tuesday it is taking action to “accelerate the development and availability” of medicines to treat and prevent the virus.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation’s director general renewed his call for countries not to impose travel and trade restrictions, while urging all health ministers to improve their countries’ data sharing on the virus.

“There is a window of opportunity because of the strong measures China is taking at the epicentre,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “So let’s use this opportunity to prevent further spread and control it.”

He urged travel bans to be “short in duration, proportionate” and regularly reviewed.

The UK is now one of several countries to warn citizens to leave China, alongside the US, Australia and Taiwan.

The US has raised its travel warning for China to the highest level, on par with North Korea, as Donald Trump declared the outbreak a public health emergency on Friday.

He signed an order banning foreign nationals who have been to China in the previous two weeks entry to the US and making quarantine mandatory for those who have visited Hubei in the same period.

On Saturday, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison followed suit, banning foreign travellers who have been in or passed through mainland China.

Additional reporting by agencies

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments