Government ‘taking no chances’ with Britons abroad amid coronavirus fears
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the Government is “taking no chances” with British citizens at risk of coronavirus as 14 more nationals and their dependants have been flown out of China.
On Tuesday, the Foreign Office urged all British nationals to leave China after the outbreak continued to claim lives.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast on Wednesday morning, Mr Hancock said the advice was a “science-led approach” based on the severity of the virus and its impact in China.
Asked how logistically Britons are expected to return to the UK, he told BBC Breakfast: “There are still commercial flights available.
“The principle that we are taking is that we want to take no chances with this virus.
“We want to take a science-led approach.
“The approach we have been taking is very much driven by the advice of the chief medical officer.
“This is a very serious virus and having a very serious impact in China.
“There are two cases only here in the UK but we do expect more, so we are taking no chances.”
On Tuesday evening, eight British nationals and their dependants left the virus-hit city of Wuhan on a flight to Auckland, New Zealand.
Diplomat Danae Dholakia said the Air New Zealand flight was delayed to allow the final passenger, a four-year-old British child, to get clearance to fly.
Paul Maloney, who works for the British Council in China, praised the British Embassy in Beijing for getting his family, including his young son Theo, an emergency passport in order to travel.
“So grateful to @ukinchina for their Herculean effort to get my family home from China. They got us an emergency passport in half a day. So they could travel home,” he wrote.
It was announced late on Tuesday that the UK Government will charter a final flight from China to bring British nationals back to the UK this week.
The plane is expected to leave in the early hours of Sunday morning local time and will land at RAF Brize Norton, the Foreign Office said, adding that they want to ensure that all British nationals in Hubei province contact their team to register if they want to leave on the flight.
Earlier, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “We now advise British nationals in China to leave the country if they can, to minimise their risk of exposure to the virus.”
The PA news agency understands that 165 Britons and their dependants remain in Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak, while 108 people have requested assistance to leave as of the early hours of Wednesday.
A total of 94 UK nationals and family members have already been evacuated to Britain from Wuhan on two flights which arrived on Friday and Sunday.
The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak continues to rise with Chinese authorities reporting 490 victims and an increase in the number of cases to 24,324.
Mr Hancock said two patients confirmed to have the virus in the UK remain in quarantine, while a Briton has tested negative after falling ill on a flight back from China.
Speaking of the Chinese nationals, he said: “They’ve been in isolation and when they are being treated they are being treated by people who are themselves protected from catching the virus from them so that process has worked well.”
He added a man who fell ill on an Air France flight has now tested negative.
In Japan nearly 3,000 passengers, including two Britons, were quarantined on board a cruise ship after 10 passengers tested positive for coronavirus on Wednesday morning local time.
Among those stuck on the Diamond Princess cruise ship Yokohama Bay, near Tokyo, are David and Sally Abel.
Mr Abel, of Woodford Halse in Oxfordshire, said: “It appears that our quarantine is on board the ship, that we will not be taken off to a hospital.
“The 10 people that are affected, they are being taken off very soon by the local coastguard into a medical facility.
“We are to remain on board the ship and we are confined to our cabins.
British health officials are trying to trace 239 people who flew from Wuhan to the UK before travel restrictions came into force.
The Department of Health said that, as of Tuesday, 414 people have tested negative for coronavirus.
The World Health Organisation said it is still early in the outbreak, but coronavirus does not yet constitute a pandemic.
Meanwhile, the University of York confirmed that a student who contracted coronavirus returned to his apartment but did not come into contact with other residents.
The unnamed student, who is being treated with a relative at a specialist facility in Newcastle, was not in the Vita Student block when he came into contact with the virus but “did return to their room on one occasion and stayed overnight”, the university said, as it moved to reassure other students.
In a statement on Tuesday, it said: “During this brief period the student did not meet other residents or staff at the building or make use of the communal facilities.”
Elsewhere, Public Health England (PHE) confirmed a Belgian woman on board the same French flight that brought back UK citizens from China on Sunday has tested positive for the new strain.
Nick Phin, PHE’s National Infection Service deputy director, said: “All of the individuals who were on this flight are currently in supervised isolation and are being monitored for symptoms.”