By Connor Sephton and Chris Robertson, news reporters
A chartered flight carrying 83 Britons from Wuhan following the coronavirus outbreak will land shortly in the UK, despite some missing take-off.
The Foreign Office has confirmed that a total of 110 passengers, including 27 foreign nationals, are on board the plane, which left the Chinese city several hours later than anticipated.
A photograph from inside the aircraft appeared to show several empty seats ahead of take-off, suggesting that some may have been unable to make the flight.
Britons arrive at deserted Wuhan airport
Hours before the flight was due to land at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, England’s chief medical officer confirmed two members of the same family in England tested positive for coronavirus.
The deputy chief medical officer has said: “Everybody who has got on the plane is a well passenger. If any of those passengers do show symptoms there are set procedures to isolate them during any process and remove them in any part of the journey.”
She added that all passengers went through thermographic screening before boarding the plane and are subject to continuous questioning and assessment on board.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove said Britain would send another plane to Wuhan to rescue British citizens if necessary.
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Joe Armitt, who is on the plane, told Sky News that not many people got on the flight because they weren’t given enough notice to get to the airport – and said the “plane is very empty”.
The 747 charter jet can hold up to 450 people, so would never have been completely full.
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The plane is expected to land at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire at 1pm today – and from there, the aircraft will travel to Spain.
In a statement, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “It’s welcome news that our evacuation flight has now left Wuhan.
“We know how distressing the situation has been for those waiting to leave. We have been working round the clock to clear the way for a safe departure. The welfare of those trapped and public safety have been our overriding priorities.”
Seven coaches from Reading have already arrived at RAF Brize Norton to collect those who land later today.
Sky News understands that the company was called on Thursday and told to prepare for up to 300 passengers.
Image: Coaches depart from Reading to Brize Norton
Image: Coaches arrive at RAF Brize Norton to receive passengers flying in from Wuhan
Among those who are still stuck in Wuhan is Nick House. He is from the UK and has two children with his wife, who is from Indonesia.
He told Sky News that he was only given three hours’ notice that the flight was leaving – with British officials warning that the Chinese government potentially wouldn’t allow his wife to leave.
Image: Nick House is from the UK and is stranded in Wuhan with his Indonesian wife and two British children
They decided to give up their seats on the plane in the hope that others would be able to take the flight.
Although the Chinese government later confirmed that his wife would be allowed to board the plane, they didn’t have enough notice.
Mr House said: “We have no transport. There was no way for us to get to the airport. So we’re still here.
“They didn’t arrange any transport. We think that other countries have arranged transportation to the airport – buses to pick people up, and so on.
“We’re resigned to being here for a while now. We are hopeful that the government can arrange other flights or put us on a flight to a different country.
“We’re just trying to make the best out of a pretty terrible situation to be honest.”
It is understood Mr House received a call from the Foreign Office after the UK flight departed, advising he may be able to board a different flight over the weekend, thought to be with an international partner.
Image: The number of people killed by the coronavirus has risen substantially in the past 48 hours
Sky News understands that there was an “upper estimate” that 150 British nationals were in the Wuhan region – but it is claimed only 84 people had expressed interest in the flight.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said they worked “as quickly as we could in challenging circumstances” to ensure everybody could get there on time and that they “delayed the flight for as long as we could” so as many people as possible could board.
Mr Gove told Sky News: “The flight which is in the air at the moment is not the end of our efforts. It is only one part that we are doing in order to keep people safe. We will do everything we can to ensure that every UK citizen, every UK national, every member of their family is contacted, supported.
“If we need to, we will send another plane. We will be working with other countries to ensure the safety and security of every UK citizen and national.”
Image: The Britons coming to the UK from Wuhan are expected to be kept in isolation at Arrowe Park Hospital
Sky News understands that the Britons on board will be quarantined for two weeks at an NHS facility on the Wirral.
It is expected they will be kept in isolation at Arrowe Park Hospital in Upton and then monitored.
Janelle Holmes, chief executive of Wirral University Hospital, told staff: “Before arrival they will be screened for symptoms. If anyone becomes unwell after arrival they will be treated following appropriate protocols.”
The outbreak was declared a global public health emergency on Thursday night.
Four chief medical officers in the UK have raised the coronavirus risk level from low to moderate – however, they stressed they “do not think the risk to individuals in the UK has changed”.
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Other details that Sky News understands include:
Three military medics and Public Health England (PHE) officials are on board the plane, but it will be crewed by civilians
The medics have a script to read out to people letting them know to speak up if they feel unwell
There is an isolation area on board
Passengers will have to agree to whatever treatment is recommended by experts
British Airways has cancelled all flights to mainland China until the end of February, while some other airlines have suspended flights
Coronavirus: What you need to know
Anyone who has returned to the UK from Wuhan in recent weeks has been urged to “self-isolate” for two weeks.
As of Thursday, 161 people in the UK have tested negative for the coronavirus.
Of 1,466 passengers and 95 staff who arrived in the UK from Wuhan between 10 and 24 January, 162 have already left the UK and 760 are now outside the 14-day incubation period for the virus.
Chinese health officials say there are now 9,692 confirmed cases, and 213 people have died.
This is an increase of 1,981 cases and 81 deaths since Wednesday.
Source : Sky News