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Coronavirus: Britons flying home from Wuhan will be quarantined

Steve Parsons/PA Wire

By Jane Kirby and Megan Baynes, PA

Britons returning from coronavirus-hit Wuhan in China will be put in quarantine for 14 days.

Officials are looking at taking passengers to a military base once they arrive home, the Department of Health said.

A flight is due to leave Wuhan in China on Thursday. It will carry passengers from Wuhan city and those from Hubei province who want to return to the UK.

Passengers may be asked to sign a contract before they board the plane saying they agree to being placed in quarantine.

Anyone who does not wish to sign could be asked to stay.

Around 200 British nationals are thought to be in the Chinese city.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted: "We are working hard to get British nationals back from Wuhan. Public safety is the top priority.

"Anyone who returns from Wuhan will be safely isolated for 14 days, with all necessary medical attention."

The move comes after Britons returning to the UK 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 (PHE) was for those returning to stay at home for 14 days.

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.

Kharn Lambert, whose grandmother Veronica Theobald, 81, from Lancaster, is booked on a flight 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."

The family has not been given exact timings for the flight or details of which London airport Mrs Theobold will arrive at.

Mr Lambert has decided not to return, and will stay in Wuhan.

Nick House, a British national living in Wuhan with his Indonesian wife and two British children, told Sky News: "We would like to be out of here. The man on the other end of the phone said, 'Yes, you are on the list, but unfortunately your wife probably won't be able to get on the plane because she doesn't have a visa at the moment'.

"I won't leave without my wife, so essentially the Government are leaving three British people here for the sake of one seat on a plane."

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 airline, which operates daily flights to Shanghai and Beijing from Heathrow, said: "We apologise to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority.

"Customers due to travel to or from China in the coming days can find more information on ba.com."

Virgin Atlantic said its flights between Heathrow and Shanghai will continue to operate as scheduled, although passengers are able to re-book 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.

Lecturer Yvonne Griffiths, who is in a hotel in Wuhan, said she received news in the early hours of Wednesday morning that there was to be a flight from Wuhan to the UK.

She told BBC Breakfast that Stansted is a possible destination but that has not been confirmed, and timings had not been been firmed up either.

"We've to be on stand-by so that we can go to the airport very early," she said.

"We've to be there six to seven hours before the flight leaves, and we would have a screening from some health people here in Wuhan, and if we are not showing any symptoms then we'll be able to board that plane.

"It has been frustrating up until today. I think the lack of certainty about the time of this flight isn't so worrying as long as we know that it's going to happen.

"Prior to that, we had quite a long period of silence from the UK Government about whether there was going to be any contingency plan to get people home."

The death toll in China from coronavirus has risen to 132, with confirmed infections surging to nearly 6,000.

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

In Australia, officials unveiled plans to evacuate its nationals from Wuhan and Hubei province, with plans to quarantine them in the Christmas Island immigration detention centre.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) 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 Tuesday that 97 people in the UK had been given the all-clear for the virus, although scientists predict it may have already entered the country.

Following the latest Foreign Office travel advice, consumer group Which? said people with trips to China planned should be covered for cancellations by their travel insurance.