Britons urged to leave Chinese province at heart of coronavirus outbreak

By PA Reporters

Britons trapped in the Chinese province at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak have been urged to leave the area if they are able to do so.

The Foreign Office updated its guidance to “advise against all travel to Hubei province”, which has been on lockdown for several days as China seeks to contain the illness.

But the guidance also added: “If you are in this area and able to leave, you should do so. This is due to the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the Government was “looking at all options” to help Britons leave Wuhan following reports that officials have been asked to examine the logistics for an airlift from the city.

It came as the number of people tested for coronavirus in the UK passed 30 – although there are still no confirmed cases.

As of Saturday afternoon, 31 people across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland had been tested for the deadly flu-like virus, but all tests have come back negative, according to the Department of Health (DoH).

There are also no confirmed diagnoses in UK citizens abroad, and the risk to the public is still classed as low.

Meanwhile, health officials are continuing to track down around 2,000 people who have recently flown into the UK from Wuhan, the area of China worst affected by the outbreak.

The DoH confirmed it is trying to find “as many passengers as we can” who arrived from the region in the past two weeks to check on their wellbeing.

It is understood Border Force officers have been recruited to help speed up the search for passengers as testing for the virus continues in the UK.

(PA Graphics)

One British man who had travelled to Wuhan to visit his girlfriend is stuck in the city after his return flight on February 3 was cancelled, and he described trying to get out of the area as “impossible”.

The 29-year-old, who did not want to be named, told the PA news agency: “There have been sporadic warnings from local government in Chinese to tell us that there will be road closures.

“There is no news on when the airport will re-open therefore the airline (China Southern) have just cancelled the flight.

“I’ve also had no help from the UK Embassy in Beijing who are conveniently closed for the weekend.”

England’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said there was a “fair chance” cases would emerge in Britain as the overall number reported around the world climbed to around 2,000 including 56 deaths, which have all occurred in China.

The professor spoke following a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee in Whitehall on Friday, chaired by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

He said: “I am working closely with the other UK chief medical officers.

“We all agree that the risk to the UK public remains low, but there may well be cases in the UK at some stage.”

Passengers in the arrivals concourse at Heathrow Terminal 4, London (Steve Parsons/PA)

He added: “The UK has access to some of the best infectious disease and public health experts in the world.

“A public health hub will be set up in Heathrow from today. This consists of clinicians and other public health officials, in addition to existing port health measures.”

In an interview, Prof Whitty said: “We think there’s a fair chance we may get some cases over time.

“Of course this depends on whether this continues for a long time, or whether this turns out to be something which is brought under control relatively quickly.”

He added: “I think we should definitely see this as a marathon, not a sprint, we need to have our entire response based on that principle.

“At the minute it definitely looks like this is a lot less dangerous if you get it than Ebola, and a lot less dangerous than the recent coronavirus MERS, and it’s probably less dangerous if you get it than SARS virus.

“What we don’t know is how far it’s going to spread, that really is something we need to plan for all eventualities.”