Around 200 British nationals remain stranded in the Chinese city at the epicentre of the escalating coronavirus outbreak due to delays to a planned evacuation flight organised by the UK government.
The Foreign Office had expected to have started flying back Britons still stuck in Wuhan in the province of Hubei; however, the plane arranged to bring them home has not been able to take off.
It is understood that the required permissions from the Chinese authorities are yet to come through, although other governments including the US and Japan have been able to evacuate hundreds of their own citizens.
Image: A patient is taken off an ambulance in Wuhan – the epicentre of the outbreak
In a statement, a Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are doing everything we can to get British people in Wuhan safely back to the UK. A number of countries’ flights have been unable to take off as planned.
“We continue working urgently to organise a flight to the UK as soon as possible. We remain in close contact with the Chinese authorities and conversations are ongoing at all levels.”
Nick Gibb, schools standards minister, told Sky News he believes the plane will be crewed by RAF personnel, with medics onboard.
“They will be coming to a military base in the UK, then they will go to an NHS facility for 14 days,” he added.
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Sky News understands the passengers will have to agree to the two-week isolation period and receive whatever treatment is recommended by experts.
While there is no vaccine for the coronavirus, which has surpassed China’s SARS outbreak of 2002 and 2003, countries around the world are doing all they can to limit its spread.
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The number of dead continues to rise in China, now standing at 170, with 7,711 confirmed cases, including the first one in Tibet – meaning all regions and territories are now affected.
Most of the confirmed cases are in Hubei, where several cities remain locked down, but the impact of the outbreak has been becoming more widely felt across the country this week.
Image: The masks are becoming a common sight at airports
On Thursday, IKEA said it was closing all 30 of its stores in China and the Chinese Football Association announced domestic matches had been indefinitely postponed.
The World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing have also been postponed until March 2021.
The Chinese national health committee has only reported 26 cases across Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Tibet, although that has not prevented some degree of panic setting in among the locals.
People in Hong Kong have been forming enormous queues to buy protective masks, and in Macau a purchase limit is being imposed to ensure they do not sell out too quickly.
Image: Queues for protective masks at a drugs store in Singapore
Image: Protective masks spotted in Chinatown in New York
While there are relatively few cases outside mainland China and its territories, other countries remain on high alert.
On Thursday, the Philippines confirmed its first case, while Singapore confirmed three new coronavirus patients on the same day, taking the total there to 10.
There are seven cases in Australia, five in the US, and four each in South Korea, France, Germany and the UAE.
Canada has three confirmed cases, Vietnam has two, and health officials have reported just one case in each of Cambodia, Nepal, Finland, Zambia and Sri Lanka.
With many governments advising their citizens against travel to China, airlines including British Airways and German carrier Lufthansa have started suspending flights to the mainland.
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BA operates daily flights to Shanghai and Beijing from Heathrow but has cancelled services until 31 January, and no bookings are being taken for direct flights to the mainland until 1 March.
Anyone who has returned to the UK from Wuhan in recent weeks has been urged to “self-isolate” for two weeks, although the Department of Health says 130 tests carried out on potential patients have come back negative.
Image: Travellers at Heathrow are also taking precautions
Despite the precautionary measures being enforced all over the globe, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been reluctant to declare an international public health emergency.
But it could finally make the call during an emergency committee meeting on Thursday.
Dr Michael Ryan, executive director at the WHO health emergencies programme, said on Wednesday: “The whole world needs to be on alert now, the whole world needs to take action and be ready for any cases that come, either from the original epicentre or from other epicentres that become established.”
Source : Sky News