British travellers have been warned not to travel to mainland China because of the rapidly spreading Wuhan Coronavirus.
Since the outbreak began, the Foreign Office has warned only against travel to Hubei province, where the virus originated.
But on Tuesday evening the FCO extended its warning to the whole of the People’s Republic – except for the “special administrative regions” of Hong Kong and Macau.
The advice to avoid “all but essential travel” to mainland China came about because of fears that the government in Beijing could widen the lockdown of transport that is currently in force in Hubei.
The Foreign Office said: “It may become harder over the coming weeks for those who wish to leave China to do so.”
The strengthened warning is aimed at sharply reducing the number of UK travellers going to mainland China, but the Foreign Office has made it clear that those who are currently in the People’s Republic need not return early.
But it adds: “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.”
Anyone who continues with plans to visit China in spite of the advice risks invalidating their travel insurance.
Travellers with imminent bookings to China with UK holiday companies will be entitled to full refunds. But it is likely that travel firms will ask those with future bookings to wait to see if the warning is withdrawn.
Plans are being finalised for an airlift of British nationals currently in the city of Wuhan and its surroundings.
British nationals in Hubei Province are advised to call +86 10 8529 6600 and "register your desire to leave before 29 January at 11am local time".
The Independent understands that the Foreign Office will charter a wide-bodied plane from an Asian airline to avoid the problems with crewing that using British Airways or Virgin Atlantic would involve.
It is not yet clear which UK airport will receive the evacuation flight. A wide range of monitoring and healthcare facilities will need to be put in place.
Meanwhile, a China specialist travel firm, Wendy Wu Tours, claims it has “confirmation” from China that the virus will start to decline imminently.
The company said: “Dr Zhong Nanshan, the medical expert behind the elimination of Sars and the leading doctor on the current coronavirus, has stated that the virus should reach a peak in a week to 10 days and will then subside.”