Coronavirus evacuation flight to land back in UK on Friday morning

An evacuation flight to bring British nationals back to the UK from the Chinese city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak will leave early on Friday, the Foreign Secretary has said.

The flight will depart Wuhan - the city at the centre of the outbreak - for the UK at 5am local time (9pm GMT), Dominic Raab said, adding that the "safety and security of British nationals is our top priority".

It is thought around 150 people will be on the flight and passengers say they have been told only to take hand luggage.

The confirmation comes after an earlier planned flight for Thursday was cancelled as it was understood Chinese officials had not yet granted permission for the chartered flight to depart.

There will be 50 EU nationals on the evacuation flight back to the UK which is set to drop British nationals at RAF Brize Norton before flying on to Spain to drop the remaining passengers.

In a lobby briefing the government said the flight had been chartered from Spain and so a bilateral agreement was struck with the Spanish government to bring Spanish citizens back too.

Speaking at a Policy Exchange event in Westminster, Mr Raab said: "On the Wuhan situation, we've been working tirelessly in the Foreign Office.

"We've been working with the Department of Health flat out, 24/7, to try and make sure we can identify British nationals in Wuhan, get them to a muster point and get them to a flight, a chartered flight in and out."

Passengers have been told they will be taken to former NHS staff accommodation in the North West for a quarantine period of 14 days.

ITV News understands those arriving on the flight will be taken to Arrowe Park Hospital near Liverpool. Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, has said he has had no contact from central government over the decision to place people evacuated from Wuhan in the Wirral.

As of Thursday, a total of 161 UK tests have been completed - all of which were confirmed negative.

British expat Kharn Lambert told ITV News he had just received a phone call from the Foreign Office and was preparing to make his way to the airport.

It comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) emergency committee is expected to declare an international public health emergency during its meeting on Thursday.

A benefit of the emergency committee meeting could be to align the various measures being taken by countries on borders and travel.

Hong Kong said on Tuesday that it would "temporarily" close some of its borders with mainland China. Russia too is closing its land border with the country, similar to steps taken by Mongolia and North Korea.

  • A cruise ship with 6000 passengers on board was held at a port in Italy after two tourists from Hong Kong reported experiencing fevers

Travel restrictions remain in place in a bid to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

British Airways has extended its suspension of flights to and from mainland China following the outbreak of the coronavirus until February 29.

The suspension came into force after the Foreign Office warned against "all but essential travel" to China because of the virus outbreak in Hubei province.

In Italy 6000 people were held on a cruise ship on Thursday while doctors were called to check on two tourists from Hong Kong with a fever, the Red Cross said.

  • English teacher Natalie Francis lives in Wuhan and spoke to ITV News about plans for the flight back to the UK

The death toll in China passed 170 on Thursday, infections rose to 7,711 and cases of human-to-human transmission were confirmed in at least three other countries.

So far, all the deaths and the majority of the infections have been in China, though at least 40 cases in 15 other countries have been reported.

The CDC has released an illustration of the 2019 coronavirus strain. Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The WHO has said the "whole world needs to be on alert" over the new coronavirus outbreak.

Ahead of the WHO meeting later on Thursday, Dr Michael Ryan, executive director at the their Health Emergencies Programme, said on Wednesday that the decision to reconvene was due to the increasing number of cases and evidence of person-to-person transmission of the virus.

He told a press conference in Geneva that the Chinese government deserves "huge credit" for its response and transparency regarding the "extraordinary challenge".

He said: "The whole world needs to be on alert now, the whole world needs to take action and be ready for any cases that come, either from the original epicentre or from other epicentres that become established."

A pilot wearing a protective suit parks a cargo plane at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport. Credit: AP

The number of coronavirus cases has now surpassed the 5,327 people diagnosed with severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) during the 2002-03 outbreak.

However, the death toll, which has risen to 170, is currently lower than the 348 people who died in China from Sars.

India confirmed its first case on Thursday, as did the Philippines.

A professor with the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said in a new study that the data they had so far was consistent with coronavirus being initially hosted by bats.

The WHO has said around one in five cases of coronavirus are leading to severe disease.

Virgin Atlantic flights between Heathrow and Shanghai are continuing to operate as scheduled.

A medical exercise taking place with 22 Field Hospital at the Army Medical Services Training Centre near York. Credit: PA