Foreign Office 'urgently exploring' options to bring Brits home from coronavirus-hit Hubei as death toll passes 100

  • Video report by ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward

The Foreign Office is "urgently exploring" plans to bring British nationals back from Hubei province in China, where the new coronavirus is thought to have originated.

Currently, 106 people have died from the virus - the majority in Hubei - and the number of people infected has almost doubled in a day, reaching more than 4,500.

China’s National Health Commission reported 25 deaths on Tuesday, with all but one in Hubei.

A spokesperson for Downing Street said the Foreign Office "is urgently exploring options for British nationals to leave Hubei province.

"Details are being finalised and the FCO (Foreign & Commonwealth Office) will confirm these as soon as they can."

Meanwhile, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Tuesday the Government is "working on" how to bring people home from the Chinese city.

Officials estimate up to 200 UK citizens currently in the area will want to return to the UK.

One of those stuck in Hubei province is British-American Ian Thompson, who told Good Morning Britain he hopes to be on a plane to Alaska before then heading to California.

He said he will then be held there for at least three days.

Describing the atmosphere in China, where he has been stuck in his apartment for the past four days, he said: "The streets are completely empty, there is no-one walking around, obviousy everyone has been told to stay in their houses.

"There is no transportation anywhere."

"It's pretty scary," he added.

As of Tuesday, a total of 97 UK tests have concluded, all of which were confirmed negative.

There are currently no confirmed cases in the UK or of UK citizens abroad, and the risk to the public is low, Public Health England have said.

Anyone who has recently returned from Wuhan, before the city was put on lockdown, have been told to "self-isolate" for 14 days even if they have no symptoms.

It is believed the virus - which causes severe acute respiratory infection - can spread from people who are carrying it but not displaying any symptoms.

It is thought around 1,500 people have returned to the UK from Wuhan since January 10.

Despite more than 70 people being tested for coronavirus in the UK, there have not yet been any confirmed cases.

Grant Shapps has said the Government is working on a way to bring people home. Credit: PA

Hong Kong's leader announced Tuesday that all rail links to mainland China will be cut starting Friday as fears grow about the spread of a new virus.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam, wearing a green surgical mask, said both the high-speed rail station and the regular train station would be closed.

She stopped short of a total closing of the border but said that flights from the mainland would also be reduced.

China has confirmed more than 4,500 cases of the virus. Credit: Chinatopix via AP

Outside of China, more than 40 cases have been confirmed elsewhere in the world.

Other cases have been found in Thailand, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the US, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, France, Canada, Germany and Australia.

Almost all involve Chinese tourists or people who visited Wuhan.

A number of other governments including Japan, France and Mongolia are also preparing evacuations.

The US Consulate in Wuhan is preparing to fly its diplomats and some other Americans out of the city, likely on Wednesday.

China has locked down cities across Huebi province, isolating some 50 million people in a sweeping anti-disease effort.

Video footage captured in Wuhan by resident Lin Wenhua shows a city shut off from the outside world, as he travels through empty streets of the city.

Mr Lin said people in the city at the centre of the outbreak are "fearful and anxious" but people "are facing the situation in a positive way".

China had expanded its already sweeping disease-control efforts by extending the end of this week’s Lunar New Year holiday, the country’s busiest travel season, by three days to Sunday to keep the public at home and reduce the risk infection will spread.

Tests for students, including English proficiency, which are needed to apply to foreign universities have also been cancelled.

Public schools and universities have been ordered to postpone reopening following the Lunar New Year holiday until further notice.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called the outbreak a grave situation and said the government was stepping up efforts to restrict travel and public gatherings while rushing medical staff and supplies to Wuhan.

People in Wuhan have been urged to stay at home and avoid public places. Credit: AP

State media reported that the President had visited the virus-hit region over the weekend to meet with officials - a sign as to how serious the Chinese are taking this.

Wuhan is building two makeshift hospitals with about 1,000 beds each to handle patients.

The city has said the first is expected to be completed on February 3.

Meanwhile, US health officials expanded their recommendation for people to avoid non-essential travel to any part of China, rather than just Wuhan and other areas most affected by the outbreak.