Britons in coronavirus-hit China advised to 'leave if they can'

Britons in mainland China have been urged to leave as the deadly coronavirus continues to claim more lives in the country.

There are approximately 30,000 British nationals living in mainland China, where the latest death toll from the outbreak has risen to 425.

On Tuesday night, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab announced another repatriation flight will be chartered to evacuate British nationals and their families back from Wuhan in Hubei - the epicentre of the virus - on Sunday.

  • ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edward explains the reaction of the Chinese authorities

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it had amended its travel advice to British nationals due to the increase in the number of cases outside of the Hubei province.

It also cited the potential for travel out of China to become increasingly difficult for Britons in light of restrictions intended to limit the spread of the virus.

In a conflicting statement, the Department of Health said the advice had been revised as a result of the Chinese health system coming under increasing pressure.

  • ITV News Political Correspondent Daniel Hewitt outlines the conflicting reasons given by British authorities for the change in policy

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: "We now advise British nationals in China to leave the country if they can, to minimise their risk of exposure to the virus."

The Foreign Office added that commercial flights departing China were available throughout the country, except in Hubei where virus originated.

The only two UK airlines serving China - British Airways and Virgin Atlantic - have grounded their flights due to the outbreak.

The Department of Health said its advice "remains the same" for Britons returning to the UK from China, those who display symptoms should "self-isolate".

  • Evacuated British nationals were taken by coach to a quarantine facility in Merseyside

Speaking on Tuesday Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: "Where there are still British nationals in Hubei province who wish to be evacuated, we will continue to work around the clock to facilitate this."

The Foreign Secretary told MPs that the Government has been "allocated 14 places on an Air New Zealand fight today [Tuesday] for UK nationals and their dependants".

A total of 94 UK nationals and family members have been evacuated to Britain from Wuhan and are currently in a quarantine facility in the Wirral.

Paramilitary policemen wear face masks as they march in formation into a pedestrian underpass next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Credit: AP

The Foreign Office has declined to say how many British nationals remaining in Hubei province have come forward to say they wish to return to the UK - but the last flights out of Wuhan are expected to leave this week.

A University of York student and their relative remain the only two confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK but Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he expects more cases of the virus to be diagnosed.

The Department of Health said that, as of Tuesday, 414 people in the UK have tested negative for coronavirus.

  • A new coronavirus hospital was built in Hubei in just ten days:

A Department of Health official said the Chinese health system is under a lot of pressure.

They said: "The recommendation by the FCO that British Nationals who are able to leave China should do so because the Chinese health system is under such strain and they may experience difficulties in getting the care they need.

"The recommendation does not at all reflect a significant change in the virus.

"Our advice remains the same for anyone returning to the UK from China - those who display symptoms should self-isolate."

In Hubei, the province at the centre of the outbreak, a specialised 1,000-bed hospital started treating patients and a second hospital with 1,500 beds is to open within days.

A couple watches on their smartphone as they wait for their flight. Credit: AP

The World Health Organisation said the number of cases will keep growing because tests are pending on thousands of suspected cases.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, presiding over a special meeting of the country’s top Communist Party body for the second time since the crisis started, said "we have launched a people’s war of prevention of the epidemic".

He told the Politburo standing committee that the country must race against time to curb the spread of the virus and that those who neglect their duties will be punished, state broadcaster CCTV reported.