The coach company that collected British passengers arriving on the evacuation flight out of coronavirus-hit China said its vehicles will be “deep cleaned”.
At least seven coaches from Horseman Coaches Ltd were seen arriving at the Brize Norton RAF base in Oxfordshire at around 10am.
The drivers had agreed to take the job, a company spokesman said, and will be given paid leave to “remain at home for the next 10 days”.
The vehicles will also be removed from service for a minimum of 10 days after they are cleaned, the company said.
After several delays, the evacuation flight left Wuhan at 9.45am local time on Friday, carrying 83 Britons and 27 non-UK nationals, mostly from EU countries, and is expected to arrive at Brize Norton at around 1pm.
The Horseman Coaches spokesman said: “The Department for Health have procedures in place for the vehicles to be deep cleaned.
“That is part of the process of this undertaking, which will happen as soon as the vehicles are clear.”
He added: “I can give everybody assurance that everything will be cleansed sufficiently.”
The British passengers on the evacuation flight – who have mainly been in Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province – had to sign a contract agreeing to isolation before they could board the flight, and underwent temperature checks.
On arrival, they boarded the coaches and faced the more than three-hour drive to Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral for a quarantine period of 14 days, where they will be housed in an NHS staff accommodation block with access to the internet.
The Horseman Coaches spokesman declined to comment on whether or not the drivers – staff members of Horseman Coaches – would also have to be put in isolation, but this was later clarified.
A statement on the company’s Facebook page said they were contacted by the British Government on Thursday afternoon, adding: “The Department for Health England have very specific procedures regarding the repatriation of these British citizens and the cleansing of vehicles using military grade cleansing equipment and the debriefing of the staff involved.
“We have received suitable guarantees from British Government departments regarding the safety of our continued operation.
“Rest assured that Horseman Coaches would not have entered into such a contract without the necessary safety guarantees in place.
“As an extra precaution Horseman Coaches have decided to take, the drivers involved will take paid leave and remain at home for the next 10 days, and likewise after the cleansing of the vehicles, the vehicles will be removed from service for a minimum of 10 days.”
Asked more about the drivers, the spokesman said: “Every driver was given the choice whether to undertake the hire or not, and every single one of them opted to do the hire. It was something they wanted to do.”
Horseman Coaches is a private coach hire company operating throughout Reading, Wokingham, Bracknell, Maidenhead, Slough, West Berkshire and across the south east carrying more than 9,000 passengers each day, according to the company’s website.
The website says the company, which has a fleet of 60 coaches, was named UK Coach Operator of the Year 2019.
Additional reporting by PA Media.