Britain is planning to fly its citizens out of the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, and back to the UK, Sky News understands.
A charter flight is set to evacuate all Britons, including those in the wider province of Hubei, who want to leave on Thursday, although final details are still being worked out.
It comes as the Foreign Office changes its travel advice on China.
The UK is now advising against all but essential travel to the whole of mainland China to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. Hong Kong and Macau are not affected by the update.
British nationals living outside Wuhan who want to leave China are being advised to use commercial flights that are still available to return home.
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Sky News understands Foreign Office staff in China and the UK are working “around the clock” to support British nationals caught up in the health scare.
It is understood all British nationals in Hubei province who wish to make use of the evacuation flight must register their interest with the UK authorities by 11am on Wednesday.
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There are believed to be about 300 UK citizens still in Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province.
Local authorities in Wuhan have closed all transport hubs including airports and railway stations, and many Britons have expressed anger at the UK government over its response.
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China said a total of 106 people have now died in the country following the outbreak, with more than 4,515 confirmed cases across the nation.
Both numbers rose dramatically in the latest update from the National Health Commission, with most of those affected hailing from Wuhan.
The Foreign Office has advised “against all travel to Hubei Province due to the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak”.
It said: “If you’re in this area and able to leave, you should do so.
“It may become harder over the coming weeks for those who wish to leave China to do so. If you feel that you may want to leave China soon, you should consider making plans to do so before any further restrictions may be imposed.”
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The Foreign Office added: “If you’re a British national in Hubei Province and need assistance, contact our 24/7 number +86 (0) 10 8529 6600 or the FCO in London on (+44) (0)207 008 1500 to register your desire to leave before 29 January at 11am local time. You will be contacted once arrangements are confirmed.”
Other countries are readying plans to evacuate their citizens. France said the first flight to repatriate French citizens would leave on Wednesday.
The US consulate in Wuhan is preparing to fly its diplomats and other Americans out of the city, and the Japanese and Mongolian governments are also preparing flights.
America is expanding its screening of arrivals from China from five to 20 airports and is considering imposing more travel restrictions.
Chinese authorities warned on Monday that the virus, believed to have originated from an animal market in Wuhan, was getting stronger and that they were unclear on its potential to mutate.
Governments around the world are warning people to avoid travel to Wuhan and some are cracking down on arrivals from the city, while the Philippines has issued a temporary blanket ban on tourist visas for Chinese nationals.
On Tuesday, UK health officials said 97 had been tested for the virus but all were negative
People who have returned from Wuhan recently have been urged to “self-isolate” and England’s director for health protection has warned the virus may already be in the UK.
Image: Carrie Lam said Hong Kong rail and ferries to the mainland were being suspended
It comes as Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday that high-speed rail and ferry links to the Chinese mainland would be suspended from Thursday.
Wearing a green face mask, she also told reporters the number of flights would be halved and personal travel permits for mainland Chinese to the city temporarily frozen.
In Wuhan, urban transport is shut and outgoing flights suspended, public transport is suspended in the major steelmaking city of Tangshan, and Beijing has put most bus services to neighbouring Hebei province on hold.
Source : Sky News