Government ‘taking no chances’ with Britons abroad amid coronavirus fears

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said the Government is “taking no chances” with British citizens at risk of coronavirus as the Foreign Office scheduled its last evacuation flight from 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.

“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.”

Mr Hancock is due to chair a Cobra meeting on coronavirus on Wednesday afternoon.

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.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

“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.

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.

Also in China, the Global Times newspaper reported that a newborn baby in Wuhan has been diagnosed with coronavirus, leading medical experts to suggest the virus can somehow be transmitted between mother and baby.

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.

Mr Abel, of Woodford Halse in Northamptonshire, described how he felt like a prisoner after being quarantined on board.

“We cannot open the door and walk around the ship – we are not allowed outside the cabin,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World At One.

“I don’t feel too bad about it because we’ve got a rather nice cabin, with a balcony, so we can open the door during the day time and have fresh air, and if the weather is good we can sit on the balcony and enjoy the view and the sunshine.

“The passengers that are getting the really bad deal are those that have got the inside cabins where they’ve got no natural light and no fresh air.”

Quarantine officials on the Diamond Princess cruise ship
Quarantine officials on the Diamond Princess cruise ship (David Abel/Facebook/PA)

“The food that we have enjoyed for two weeks has been fantastic – a la carte, every meal – now we are not getting any choice of food. It’s pretty basic.”

Mr Abel said the ship had been on anchor in the middle of the bay for the last two days, but would be allowed to dock in Yokohama to take on extra provisions.

The Department of Health said on Wednesday that 468 people in the UK have now tested negative for coronavirus.

Of almost 1,500 people who arrived on direct flights from Wuhan in January, all have either left the UK or are now outside the 14-day incubation period for the virus.

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.

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.”

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