Returning Brits to be quarantined for 14 days as British Airways suspends all China flights

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 due to leave Wuhan in China on Thursday, however, will not now take place as the Government had hoped.

As plans to bring Britons home take shape, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is chairing a meeting of the Government's Cobra emergency committee on Wednesday afternoon.

Around 200 British nationals are thought to be in Wuhan.

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.

Wednesday's decision, also confirmed in a tweet by Matt Hancock, was announced just hours after British Airways suspended all flights to and from mainland China as the Government finalises urgent plans to bring Britons back.

The airline, which operates daily flights to Shanghai and Beijing from Heathrow, said it was halting the flights with immediate effect after the Foreign Office warned against "all but essential travel" to the country because of the virus outbreak.

The deadline for those stuck in the city of Wuhan and surrounding areas to contact the British consulate expressing their wish to leave passed at 3am UK time (11am local time).

A woman wearing a face mask packs her suitcase in the departures area of Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport. Credit: PA

The disease has killed 132 people in China, with confirmed infections surging to nearly 6,000 worldwide, surpassing the 5,327 in mainland China during the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003.

Virgin Airlines will continue flights as scheduled, although passengers are able to rebook or obtain a refund free of charge.

Several other airlines, including United Airlines and Finnair, have suspended some flights.

  • Mum Natalie Francis tells ITV News she is eligible for evacuation from Wuhan but her young son is not

A British teacher in Wuhan said UK citizens were being given details of forthcoming flights.

The teacher - who did not want to be named - said a number of other Britons she was in contact with had arranged to return home, with some scheduled on a flight at 7am on Thursday.

On Tuesday, the Foreign Office updated its travel advice to warn against “all but essential travel” to mainland China, saying it may become more difficult for British nationals in other provinces to leave.

It added UK nationals in China should “make decisions based on their own personal circumstances” over whether to leave other parts of the country.

Britons in the coronavirus-hit Chinese province of Hubei could be flown home as early as Thursday Credit: PA

In a statement, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: "Due to the increasing travel restrictions and the public health situation, we now advise against all but essential travel to China.

"We are also working urgently to finalise arrangements for an assisted departure from Hubei Province for British nationals this week, and are in contact with people in Hubei to ensure they register their interest and that we can keep them updated."

In a statement, British Airways said it had "suspended all flights to and from mainland China with immediate effect following advice from the Foreign Office against all but essential travel".

"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 has cancelled all of its flights to and from China with immediate effect. Credit: PA

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

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

The United Arab Emirates has also confirmed its first cases of the virus in a family who recently returned to the UAE from Wuhan.

At least 14 cases have been confirmed in Thailand, and Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the US, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, Canada and Australia, have all confirmed at least one case.

Almost all involve Chinese tourists or people who visited Wuhan.

Immigration officials wear face mask at Kuala Lumpur Low Cost Terminal in Sepang, Malaysia. Credit: AP

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 Wednesday that 130 people in the UK had been given the all-clear for the virus, although scientists predict it may have already entered the country.

China has imposed travel restrictions between its major cities, while the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has suspended all tour group companies’ activities to prevent further virus spread.

Hubei province has been on lockdown for several days as China seeks to contain the illness, as have other parts of China.

  • Footage shows the deserted streets of Wuhan as the city remains on lockdown

Hong Kong also said on Tuesday it would “temporarily” close some of its borders with mainland China and stop issuing travel permits to mainland Chinese tourists.

Australian health officials meanwhile say the Chinese women's national soccer team is being quarantined in Brisbane city.

Queensland state Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young says 32 people - including players and staff - travelled through Wuhan a week ago.

The team will be kept in isolation in a Brisbane hotel until Wednesday next week. The group arrived in Brisbane on a flight from Shanghai on Tuesday before border officials placed them in isolation.

They are travelling with a team doctor and none has shown symptoms.

Evacuations to other countries

A plane carrying Japanese nationals arrived back in Tokyo from Wuhan early on Wednesday. Credit: AP

As Britons wait to be evacuated, citizens of other countries have already been returning home.

Chartered planes carrying evacuees back to Japan and the United States left Wuhan early on Wednesday morning.

Four of those on the Japanese flight were ill.

A plane carrying some 240 American diplomats and citizens who had been in Wuhan left for Anchorage, Alaska, where they were rescreened for the virus.

US hospitals are prepared to treat or quarantine people who may be infected.

After departing Alaska, the plane flew to Ontario, California.

Chartered by the US government, the plane flew from Wuhan, China. Credit: AP

At the Tokyo airport, Takeo Aoyama, an employee at Nippon Steel Corp’s subsidiary in Wuhan, told reporters he was relieved to be able to return home.

“We were feeling increasingly uneasy as the situation developed so rapidly and we were still in the city,” Mr Aoyama said, his voice muffled by a white surgical mask.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government confirmed the condition of the four ill passengers after the flight of 206 Japanese evacuees arrived.

They were taken in separate ambulances to a Tokyo hospital for treatment and further health checks.

All of the passengers had their temperatures checked before boarding and on the plane, and plans had been made for all of the evacuees to be treated and quarantined depending on their test results.

Meanwhile Australia has said it will evacuate its 600 returning citizens for two weeks on Christmas Island - some 1,200 miles (2,000km) from the mainland.

The announcement sparked controversy as the island is best known for a recently-reopened immigration detention centre, which was criticised for its conditions.