A British family trapped in the centre of the coronavirus outbreak are facing their “worst nightmare” after being told wife and mother Sindy Siddle will not be allowed on the plane evacuating them from the country.
Sindy Siddle travelled to Hubei province with her husband, Jeff, and nine-year-old daughter, Jasmine, to spend Chinese new year with her family in the village of Hongtu.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) have told her that since she has a Chinese passport, she will not be allowed to board the plane evacuating British nationals in the next few days. Sindy, a 42-year-old accounts assistant, has had a visa for permanent residency in the UK since 2008.
“My head is spinning. It’s just horrendous,” said Jeff, 54, an IT software developer. “This ordeal just turned into our worst nightmare … How can they put a family in this position? Having to leave Sindy in China would be the worst thing that anyone could be put through. How am I going to tell Jasmine that her mum has to stay behind?”
Sindy said she was devastated when she found out: “This is a very difficult time for us because my daughter is just nine years old and I don’t want to put her at risk staying here for a long time. But anything that can help my daughter get away we will try, so we made a decision that Jeff and Jasmine will go.
“I want to be with my family and look after them, especially my daughter, because I don’t know how to tell my daughter, you have to go without mum.”
The family, from Prudhoe, Northumberland, said there were no health warnings in place when they flew out on 15 January, but have since become caught up in an outbreak which has claimed more than a hundred lives.
“There was no indication that there was any danger. It’s all just escalated since we arrived,” said Jeff.
The Siddles’ situation was echoed by another family. Natalie Francis, a 31-year-old kindergarten teacher from York, said she had been told her three-year-old son, who has a Chinese passport, would not qualify for evacuation.
The boy has British residency rights under the 1981 Nationality Act, but Francis said: “I finally got a phone call at 10am this morning from some man [at the Foreign Office] in London, who then went on to say that I qualify for evacuation, but they cannot take my son. And I said, ‘There’s like nothing you can do? I mean, I literally have a letter from you guys saying he is a British citizen.’
“They said anyone with Chinese nationality or other citizenship is not being allowed to go on. And then he went on to ask if I still want to go, and I’m like, ‘So yeah, you want me to just abandon my son in China, and go home?’”
“He was probably just trying to do his job but it’s a ridiculous question.”
The Siddles are trapped in the village of Hongtu near Jingmen city, a three-hour drive from Wuhan, with no communication over the last few days from the British authorities in Wuhan and Beijing, which he said have been closed for the Chinese new year. Other British citizens in Wuhan have expressed frustration over the lack of clarity from the UK government.
“There hasn’t been a lot of help from the UK side at all,” said Jeff. “The roads from our village are not allowing cars through, so we effectively can’t leave the village. We haven’t left the village for about four days now.”
They finally received confirmation that a flight would be available for British nationals to leave the country in the next few days, but still face the task of making their way to Wuhan airport, 150 miles away, when most roads are closed.
The FCO said it would make a note on their file that Sindy is the mother of a British child, but could make no guarantees about her evacuation.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Foreign Office is urgently exploring options for British nationals to leave Hubei province. Details are being finalised, and the FCO will confirm these as soon as they can.”
The FCO advised Britons in Hubei to ring one of two dedicated 24-hour telephone numbers before 11am on Wednesday to register their desire to be evacuated.
The family are determined to campaign to get the Foreign Office decision overturned so that Sindy will be allowed to leave. In the meantime, they have don’t know when they will be reunited again.