By Alix Culbertson and Tom Acres, news reporters
Britons being flown back to the UK from Wuhan will be quarantined for two weeks over coronavirus fears, Sky News understands.
Military bases are being considered as an option to isolate them, government sources said.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: “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.”
Image: Thai Airways crew disinfect the cabin of an aircraft at Bangkok Airport
Image: People across China are on high alert as the virus continues to spread
Earlier on Wednesday, British Airways suspended all flights to mainland China as the number of coronavirus cases in the country surpassed the SARS epidemic.
The airline, which operates daily flights to Shanghai and Beijing from Heathrow, said the cancellations are in effect until 31 January following advice from the Foreign Office warning against “all but essential travel”.
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The BA website appears to show they are not taking any bookings for direct flights to mainland China until 1 March.
Image: A worker in a protective suit disinfects Dongxinzhuang village in Shandong province
Image: Passengers take measures to protect themselves in Tokyo
A BA spokeswoman apologised but said the safety “of our customers and crew is always our priority”, as it directed passengers due to travel to and from China in the coming days to its website.
In the last 24 hours, 26 people have died in China, bringing the death toll to 132, and the numbers of confirmed cases has soared to 5,974, an increase of 1,459 from Tuesday.
The latest figures mean the new virus, dubbed Wuhan Virus, has now infected more people than SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) which infected 5,327 people and killed nearly 800 people around the world between November 2002 and July 2003.
Image: A woman who recovered after being infected receives flowerst as she leaves hospital in Bozhou
Image: Face masks are becoming a more common sight at Heathrow airport
All but one of the coronavirus deaths were in Hubei province.
Wuhan is the epicentre of the virus and was placed under lockdown by the Chinese government last week, prompting other countries including Britain and the US to start evacuating their nationals from the city.
British officials believe up to 200 citizens currently in Wuhan will want to return to the UK, and the Foreign Office is advising people in other parts of China to “make decisions based on their own personal circumstances”.
Race to develop coronavirus vaccine
Any British nationals in Hubei province had to let the British Embassy know they wanted to leave before 11am local time on Wednesday ahead of a planned evacuation flight at 7am local time on Thursday.
Khan Lambert, a British teacher in Wuhan, told Sky News the embassy told British nationals they will have to organise their own transport to Wuhan airport and also from Heathrow to their homes before self-isolating for 14 days.
However, the health secretary said evacuees will be looked after and placed in isolation with medical assistance.
Image: There are confirmed cases of the virus in Macau
Image: There have not been any fatalities outside China so far
Infection risk increasing
A Beijing health official said the number of cases in the capital is on the rise and the risk of being infected in the city is increasing. Beijing has confirmed one death and 102 cases so far.
Governments around the world are advising people not to travel to China as uncertainty remains over how dangerous the new virus is and how easily it spreads between humans.
It is from the same family as the common cold, as well as SARS.
There have been confirmed cases in countries across Asia, North America and Europe, although there have been no fatalities outside China.
UK’s ‘ludicrous’ approach to China travel
On Wednesday, four people from the same Chinese family in the UAE were confirmed as having coronavirus, state-run news agency WAM reported.
On Tuesday, health officials said 97 people tested in the UK for the virus were all negative, but England’s director for health protection later warned it may still be present in the country.
People who have recently returned to the UK from Wuhan have been urged to “self-isolate” for two weeks.
Some nations are taking more drastic action to try to to avoid any major outbreaks, with the Philippines issuing a temporary blanket ban on tourist visas for Chinese nationals and handing out 100,000 free masks to the 130,000 Filipinos living in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong will cut all rail links to mainland China and halve the number of flights, while Beijing has agreed to halt travel permits for Chinese visitors to the city.
Japan chartered a flight carrying 206 evacuees from Wuhan which landed early on Wednesday in Tokyo.
Image: The first new hospital will provide around 1,000 bed when it opens
Wuhan is one of 17 cities in Hubei province that China has cut off access to, trapping more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease control measures ever imposed.
The city of 11 million people is building two hospitals in a matter of days to add 2,500 beds for treatment of patients with the virus, with authorities warning it is getting stronger and they are unclear on its potential to mutate.
Image: Australia has been welcoming people back from Wuhan
Image: Governments are working to evacuate their nationals from Wuhan
Researchers from The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne have said they have grown a version of the virus that could be used to develop a vaccine.
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It was grown from a patient sample received last week and will be used to generate an antibody test, which allows detection of the virus in patients who have not yet displayed any symptoms.
Dr Julian Druce said: “The virus will be used as positive control material for the Australian network of public health laboratories, and also shipped to expert laboratories working closely with the WHO in Europe.”
Source : Sky News