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Tyrone man 'exhausted and relieved' after being flown out of coronavirus-hit city

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Ben Pinkerton

Ben Pinkerton

Min Shen, who is living in Belfast

Min Shen, who is living in Belfast

Min Shen's mother Yan Yang

Min Shen's mother Yan Yang

Ben Pinkerton

A Northern Ireland man has told of his relief after being evacuated from coronavirus-hit Wuhan.

Ben Pinkerton was on board the evacuation flight from the Chinese city at the centre of the devastating outbreak, which has killed more than 200 people.

The plane, carrying 83 Britons and 27 non-UK nationals, landed at the Brize Norton RAF base in Oxfordshire this afternoon.

The passengers, including Mr Pinkerton, were taken on to hospital where they will spend the next 14 days in quarantine.

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British evacuees repatriated from Wuhan arrive at Arrowe Park Hospital for quarantine procedures in Wirral, Merseyside

British evacuees repatriated from Wuhan arrive at Arrowe Park Hospital for quarantine procedures in Wirral, Merseyside

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British evacuees repatriated from Wuhan arrive at Arrowe Park Hospital for quarantine procedures in Wirral, Merseyside

British evacuees repatriated from Wuhan arrive at Arrowe Park Hospital for quarantine procedures in Wirral, Merseyside

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British evacuees repatriated from Wuhan arrive at Arrowe Park Hospital for quarantine procedures in Wirral, Merseyside

It came as the first two cases of coronavirus were confirmed in the UK.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph tonight, Mr Pinkerton (23), an English teacher from Dungannon in Co Tyrone, told of his relief. "I'm very happy to be back in the UK.

"I'm eating cheese and onion Walkers crisps and that's already perking up my mood.

"I'm a lot more comfortable and I can actually lie down now after the travelling."

The convoy of six coaches arrived at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral shortly after 7.15pm tonight.

The vehicles were led by a police escort to the rear of the hospital and on to a side road leading to the accommodation block.

A medic wearing a protective suit was sitting next to the driver of each coach.

Asked about conditions at the hospital, Mr Pinkerton said: "It is kind of like an apartment with three bedrooms and a shared lounge kitchen. We will be in there for the whole two weeks."

Describing the mood on the coaches heading to the hospital, he added: "People were bored and just slightly uncomfortable."

It was initially estimated that some 150 Britons would be on board the flight out of Wuhan.

An "exhausted" Mr Pinkerton said that take-off had been delayed, with many of those due to fly not present.

"It was supposed to take off at 7am but it was much later than that. I can't even remember the exact time. I'm exhausted, I just want today to end," he added.

"The atmosphere on the flight was great and the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) guys were very helpful, nice and friendly and checking up on us and chatting."

Images posted on social media revealed rows of empty seats throughout the cabin.

Mr Pinkerton added: "It wasn't mentioned directly but when they did a roll call to give people their tickets, the first maybe 20 names before me, nobody was there.

"My room-mate said after me there was maybe one person for every three names called that actually was present."

A spokesperson for the FCO said that around 80 UK nationals were on board the flight, with a further 27 foreign nationals and some governmental staff. In response to claims that some passengers had missed the flight, they explained that the situation on the ground "was a fast moving and complex" one and was relying on permission from Chinese authorities for the flight to depart "at very short notice".

They added: "There was unfortunately always going to be people under those circumstances who couldn't make the flight.

"We are still in touch with people in Hubei province who may want to get home and we are still confident that we will have the resources to arrange transport for those who want to come back."

The evacuation flight came as the first two cases of coronavirus in the UK were confirmed by Public Health England (PHE).

PHE confirmed that the two people taken ill - who are members of the same family - had been staying at the Staycity apartment-hotel in York when they became unwell.

The firm has said the apartment involved has been thoroughly disinfected and PHE has been providing support.

Around 10,000 cases of the virus have been confirmed in China with more than 200 fatalities. More than 100 cases have been reported in 22 other countries.

Dr Connor Bamford, a research fellow at Queen's University Belfast, explained that the emergence of these cases in England was to "be expected" and said a similar discovery in Northern Ireland was possible.

Meanwhile, for those still in China, the lockdown within the country has seen many confined indoors for multiple days.

Min Shen (43) from Belfast relies on mobile phone communication to keep in contact with his 68-year-old mother Yan Yang who lives in Hankou in Wuhan.

"The last time my mum was outside was on January 20," he explained.

"The only two kinds of shop currently open are for medicines and food. Since the lockdown order was given, people were kind of panicked to increase their daily supplies of food. However, it is pretty calm now.

"I talk with her at least two times every day. She is keeping busy reading books, watching TV and she gets to see her grandson, which keeps her morale up."

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