Britons in the coronavirus-hit Chinese province of Hubei could be flown home as early as Thursday as the Foreign Office has warned against “all but essential travel” to the country.
The Foreign Office has yet to confirm details, but a teacher in Wuhan city told the PA news agency that UK citizens were being given details of forthcoming flights.
Those stuck in the city of Wuhan and surrounding areas have been urged to contact the British consulate before 11am on Wednesday if they wish to leave.
The British embassy in Beijing has said transport to get UK citizens out “may happen quickly and with short notice”.
Meanwhile the FCO updated its travel advice to urge UK citizens to avoid the country, adding it may become more difficult for British nationals in other provinces to leave.
The advice said: “The Chinese government continue to impose further restrictions on movement within China in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“It may become harder over the coming weeks for those who wish to leave China to do so.
#China The FCO continue to advise against all travel to Hubei Province, and now advise against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China (not including Hong Kong and Macao). Read more: https://t.co/gHJptrPkfapic.twitter.com/29TDUbTjYH
— FCO travel advice (@FCOtravel) January 28, 2020
“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.”
China has imposed travel restrictions between its major cities while the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has suspended all tour group companies’ activities to prevent further virus spread.
The British teacher living in Wuhan, who asked not to be named, told PA she had been in contact with the British authorities who informed her that while she could return to the UK, her husband, who has a UK visa, would not be allowed to as he was a Chinese national.
It is understood that this was a result of restrictions imposed by China, rather than the UK.
As a result, she decided that she would remain in China with her husband.
She said: “It’s what we were expecting to be honest, as we’d heard that it was like that for the American flight out. We had hoped it would be different, but oh well.
“If the situation stays as it is, or improves, then we’re fine. We just hope it won’t get any more serious.”
She added that a number of other Britons she was in contact with had arranged to return home, with some scheduled on a flight at 7am on Thursday.
The news comes as almost 100 people in the UK have tested negative for coronavirus.
The Department of Health and Social Care said 97 people have been given the all-clear for the virus, although scientists predict it may have entered the country.
Earlier, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the Government was “working on” how to bring people home from the Chinese city.
He told BBC Breakfast: “For anybody who is there, one of the issues we have, working with our partners internationally on this, is actually identifying how many British citizens there are in Wuhan.
“One of the things we’re asking people to do is to contact the consulate there to make them aware. People have started to do that.
“We are working on arrangements as well.”
Officials estimate up to 200 citizens currently there will want to return to the UK.
Hubei province has been on lockdown for several days as China seeks to contain the illness, as have other parts of China.
Hong Kong also said on Tuesday it would “temporarily” close some of its borders with mainland China and stop issuing travel permits to mainland Chinese tourists.
More than 100 people have now died in the country, with confirmed infections surging to more than 4,500.
It comes as the UK expert developing a vaccine against coronavirus said it has a “very good chance” of being effective.
📒NEW BLOG: Wuhan novel coronavirus: what you need to know https://t.co/9vOzpEOscA
— Public Health England (@PHE_uk) January 24, 2020
Professor Robin Shattock, head of mucosal infection and immunity at Imperial College London, told PA he plans to start testing the vaccine on animals by the middle of February, with human studies in the summer if enough funding is secured.
He warned there could be a second wave of coronavirus next winter across the globe.
On Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock called for people who have returned from Wuhan to “self-isolate” even if they have no symptoms.
He said officials could not be 100% certain the virus is not spread by people who are not displaying symptoms.
The move means more than 1,400 people who have returned from Wuhan since January 10 should isolate themselves for 14 days from the date of leaving China.
Meanwhile, reports from Japan and Germany on Tuesday suggested cases of coronavirus in people with no history of travel to Wuhan.
Scientists are also working on emerging evidence which suggests the virus can be spread by people before they even develop symptoms.
This could hamper efforts to contain the virus as people who have no indication they are ill go about their usual daily lives.