Britons stuck in China put on standby for airlift home amid coronavirus outbreak

Britons stranded in the Chinese region at the centre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak were today put on standby to be airlifted home.

They were told to contact the British authorities by 11am tomorrow (local time) to get on an evacuation list. The airlift could happen “quickly and with short notice”, the British Embassy in Beijing stated. 

A flight is expected towards the end of the week, although the details were still being finalised.

Evacuees in Hubei province are likely to undergo a health check before they board a chartered plane for Britain, in an attempt stop them bringing the killer infection to the UK. After arriving, they are expected to be quarantined for 14 days, the incubation period of the coronavirus.

As the crisis escalated, the British Embassy in Beijing said: “Due to the increasing travel restrictions and difficulty accessing medical assistance we are working to make an option available for British nationals to leave Hubei province. This may happen quickly and with short notice.”

People wearing masks at the Incheon International Airport (Getty Images)

At least 106 people are believed to have died from the virus, all in China, with the number of confirmed cases in the country currently 4,515. The numbers are rising sharply from the 81 dead and 2,835 with the virus reported yesterday. 

A further 37 cases have been reported in 11 countries outside China, including five in the US and five in Thailand, the World Health Organisation said.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told BBC Breakfast today: “We will get people home as and when as need be.” He added: “In terms of safety, that has to come first. Measures will be taken to ensure that people are quarantined for a period of time.” 

He urged some 250 to 300 Britons in Hubei province to contact the consulate in Wuhan, the city where the viral outbreak began, so they could be repatriated if they wished to be. Some stranded Britons have accused the Government of acting too slowly and failing to provide enough information.

Children wearing face masks cross a road during a Lunar New Year of the Rat public holiday in Hong Kong (AFP via Getty Images)

Japan was sending a plane from Tokyo today to bring home some of the 650 nationals who said they wanted to leave. 

The first plane to repatriate French nationals from Wuhan will likely bring them back to Paris on Thursday, said junior transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari. “There will be a first repatriation flight that will leave Paris tomorrow and most likely come back Thursday with people … who have no symptoms”, he told French television channel CNews. 

“These people will be put under quarantine. And then there will be a second flight, at a yet undefined date, with people showing symptoms, thus possible virus carriers, who will be cared for in Paris”, he added.  

US diplomats were expected to leave the consulate in Wuhan, along with some other US citizens, possibly as early as today.  South Korea said it planned to send chartered planes to Wuhan on Thursday and Friday to bring home some 700 of its nationals.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has ordered Public Health England to trace 1,460 people who arrived from Wuhan in the last fortnight (PA)

Germany today confirmed its first case of the virus, a man from Starnberg, south of Munich, who was “in a clinically good condition”. German car parts supplier Webasto later said a second employee had become infected following the visit of another employee, from China, to the company’s HQ in Stockdorf, Bavaria. 

In the UK, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has ordered Public Health England to trace 1,460 people who arrived from Wuhan in the last fortnight and told those who had returned to “self-isolate” to prevent spreading the virus.

So far 70 people have been tested here for the virus and all have been negative.

Professor Paul Hunter of the University of East Anglia, said repatriating UK citizens from Wuhan “would carry a small increased risk of importing the infection into the UK”.

The British Embassy in Beijing stated: “If you are a British national in Hubei province, please call our 24/7 number +86 (0) 10 8529 6600 or (+44) (0)207 008 1500 to register your desire to leave before 29th Jan, 11am. Once arrangements are confirmed we will then contact you to confirm arrangements.”


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