Britons evacuated due to coronavirus to be quarantined for 14 days

Britons returning from coronavirus-hit Wuhan will be placed in quarantine for 14 days.

Officials are considering taking passengers to a military base once they arrive home, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

Advice from Public Health England published on Tuesday told UK citizens returning from Wuhan to stay indoors and avoid contact with other people, as is the advice with other flu viruses, and to call NHS 111 to inform them if they have recently travelled to the city.

Flights taking Britons back home from the coronavirus-hit Chinese province of Hubei could begin on Thursday as urgent plans for a major evacuation were put in place.

Passengers may be asked to sign a contract before they board the plane saying they agree to being placed in quarantine, the DHSC said. Anyone who does not wish to sign could be asked to stay.

The health secretary Matt Hancock tweeted: “We are working hard to get British nationals back from Wuhan. Public safety is the top priority. Anyone who returns from Wuhan will be safely isolated for 14 days, with all necessary medical attention.”

The Foreign Office is warning against all but essential travel to the country because of the outbreak of the disease, and British Airways has suspended all flights to and from mainland China with immediate effect.

What is the virus causing illness in Wuhan?

It is a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals, or possibly seafood. New and troubling viruses usually originate in animal hosts. Ebola and flu are examples.

What other coronaviruses have there been?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals.

What are the symptoms of the Wuhan coronavirus?

The virus causes pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. If people are admitted to hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died are known to have been already in poor health.

Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?

Human to human transmission has been confirmed by China’s national health commission. As of 27 January, the Chinese authorities had acknowledged more than 2,700 cases and 56 deaths. In the past week, the number of confirmed infections has more than tripled and cases have been found in 13 provinces, as well as the municipalities of Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin. The virus has also been confirmed outside China, in Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the US, and Vietnam. There have not been any confirmed cases in the UK at present, with the more than 70 people tested for the virus all proving negative. The actual number to have contracted the virus could be far higher as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected. Modelling by WHO experts at Imperial College London suggests there could be as many as 100,000 cases, with uncertainty putting the margins between 30,000 and 200,000.

How worried are the experts?

There were fears that the coronavirus might spread more widely during the week-long lunar new year holidays, which start on 24 January, when millions of Chinese travel home to celebrate, but the festivities have largely been cancelled and Wuhan and other Chinese cities are in lockdown.

At what point should you go to the doctor if you have a cough, say?

Unless you have recently travelled to China or been in contact with someone infected with the virus, then you should treat any cough or cold symptoms as normal. The NHS advises that there is generally no need to visit a doctor for a cough unless it is persistent or you are having other symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing or you feel very unwell.

Should we panic?

No. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. It increases the likelihood that the World Health Organization will declare the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern on Thursday evening. The key concerns are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital.

Sarah Boseley Health editor and Hannah Devlin 

Britons in the city of Wuhan had until 11am (3am GMT) to contact the UK consulate telling them if they wished to leave – it is thought at least 200 British citizens want to return.

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A British teacher in Wuhan said UK citizens were being given details of forthcoming flights and that a number of Britons had arranged to return home, with some scheduled on a flight at 7am on Thursday.

The Foreign Office said it might become more difficult for British nationals in other provinces to leave and advised them to “make decisions based on their own personal circumstances” over whether to evacuate. The British embassy in Beijing warned that transport to get UK citizens out “may happen quickly and with short notice”.

The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said: “[Officials are] working urgently to finalise arrangements for an assisted departure from Hubei province for British nationals this week, and are in contact with people in Hubei to ensure they register their interest and that we can keep them updated.”

He added: “Due to the increasing travel restrictions and the public health situation, we now advise against all but essential travel to China.”

The death toll in China has risen to 132, with confirmed infections up to nearly 6,000. France was the first European country to report a case, while four cases have been confirmed in Germany.

The United Arab Emirates has also confirmed its first cases of the virus, in a family who recently returned to the country from Wuhan.

Australian officials announced plans to evacuate some of its nationals from Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province, with plans to quarantine them in the Christmas Island immigration detention centre for up to 14 days – the incubation period for the virus.

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In the UK, the DHSC has given the all-clear to 97 people but scientists predict the virus may have entered the country. More than 1,400 people have returned from Wuhan since 10 January.

In China, Hubei province has been on lockdown for several days while the government has imposed travel restrictions between its major cities, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has suspended activities of all tour group companies to prevent the virus spreading.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong said it would temporarily close some of its borders with mainland China and stop issuing travel permits to mainland tourists.


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