Coronavirus: Brits set to leave China on Friday after delayed flight is cleared for take-off

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer

Brits who were cue to fly home from coronavirus-hit Wuhan on Thursday have been told their flight will finally leave China on Friday.

The UK government had anticipated flying about 200 UK citizens out of the country, where the death toll has risen to 170, on Thursday but Chinese officials refused permission for it to take off.

Now foreign secretary Dominic Raab has confirmed that the flight will depart China on Friday.

He said in a statement: "We are pleased to have confirmation from the Chinese authorities that the evacuation flight from Wuhan airport to the UK can depart at 5am local time on Friday 31 January.

"The safety and security of British nationals is our top priority. Our embassy in Beijing and consular teams remain in close contact with British nationals in the region to ensure they have the latest information they need."

People arrive at Heathrow airport wearing protective face masks following the coronavirus outbreak (AP)
Current confirmed cases of coronavirus (PA)

Quarantine

Britons returning from Wuhan will be put in quarantine for 14 days.

Government minister Nick Gibb confirmed that the plane carrying the passengers from Wuhan will land at a military base in the UK before being taken to an “NHS facility”.

Downing Street said the Britons returning from Wuhan had agreed to be placed in "assisted isolation”.

Speaking at a Policy Exchange event in Westminster earlier, Mr Raab said officials in the Foreign Office had "been working tirelessly" to get citizens out of Wuhan.

He added: "We've been working with the Department of Health flat out, 24/7, to try and make sure we can identify British nationals in Wuhan, get them to a muster point and get them to a flight, a chartered flight in and out."

The evacuation flight – which is expected to have 150 Britons on board – will land at RAF Brize Norton and also include 50 non-Brits, mainly from EU countries.

The plane chartered by the UK from a Spanish company will then head to Spain with the foreign nationals after taking the UK passengers to the Oxfordshire air base.

Passengers will then be taken to an NHS facility in the North West for a quarantine period of 14 days, sources told PA.

Kharn Lambert, whose grandmother Veronica Theobald, 81, from Lancaster, is hoping to leave Wuhan, said he was waiting for a confirmation email with flight details.

"The situation is basically we won't go to the airport until we receive the confirmation email," he said.

Passengers say they have been told only to take hand luggage on the flight.

Passengers arrive at Heathrow Airport in London after the last British Airways flight from China touched down in the UK (AP)

Mixed advice

Britons returning to the UK had previously expressed fury after being told they must "self-isolate" – while also making their own way home from the airport.

Previous advice from Public Health England was for those returning to stay at home for 14 days.

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But Britons due to board the flight back from Wuhan said they had been told by authorities to make their own way through the city to Wuhan airport, and once they land on British soil they are expected to make their own way home, potentially coming into contact with hundreds of people on the way.

Experts in China have said there is evidence that people could transmit the virus without showing any symptoms, although UK experts think the risk is low.

A family seen wearing protective masks as they walk around Changi Airport in Singapore (SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

Passenger frustrations

Kharn Lambert, whose grandmother Veronica Theobald, 81, from Lancaster, is booked on a flight that was due to be leaving Wuhan on Thursday, told the PA news agency: "We are not sure what time the flight will leave yet. She got a seat almost straight away because of her condition.

"She is relieved, so am I, but she's frustrated with the restrictions being put in place. She can only take 15kg of hand luggage and she came here with about 30kg of stuff.”

Mr Lambert has decided not to return, and will stay in Wuhan, but said his grandmother had been told previously she would have to get from London to Lancaster on her own.

A Chinese volunteer wearing the protective clothing disinfects a street for prevention of coronavirus (Costfoto/Sipa USA)

Containment efforts

The Foreign Office updated its advice on Tuesday to warn against all but essential travel to mainland China, saying it may become more difficult for British nationals in other provinces to leave.

On Wednesday, British Airways announced it was suspending all flights to and from mainland China with immediate effect. The cancellations will be in place for a month until 19 February.

Virgin Atlantic said its flights between Heathrow and Shanghai will continue to operate as scheduled, although passengers are able to rebook or obtain a refund free of charge.

Chinese airlines which serve UK airports such as Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester – including Air China, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Hainan Airlines and Tianjin Airlines – all appear to be operating flights as normal.

A Chinese worker wearing protective clothing checks passenger's body temperatures for prevention of coronavirus at the exit of Nanjing Railway Station (Costfoto/Sipa USA)

Coronavirus in numbers

The death toll in China from coronavirus has risen to 170, with confirmed infections surging to 7,711.

Of the new deaths, 37 were in the epicentre of the outbreak in Hubei province, with one in the south-western province of Sichuan.

Four cases have been confirmed in Germany, making it the second European country to report cases after France.

The World Health Organisation said the latest indications are that one in five cases of coronavirus are leading to severe disease, such as pneumonia, or were causing death.

The Department of Health and Social Care said on Wednesday that 130 people in the UK had been given the all-clear for the virus, although scientists predict it may have already entered the country.