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Coronavirus: Britons in mainland China told to leave if they can

Commercial flights are still available outside Hubei province, the Foreign Office said.

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A clerk wearing a face mask in a pharmacy in Wuhan (Arek Rataj/AP)

A clerk wearing a face mask in a pharmacy in Wuhan (Arek Rataj/AP)

A clerk wearing a face mask in a pharmacy in Wuhan (Arek Rataj/AP)

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

The Foreign Office amended its travel advice after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he expects more cases to be diagnosed in the UK.

Officials told the PA news agency the update was a prudent step in case more commercial airlines stopped flights out of China, or China extended travel restrictions.

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.

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

It comes as Mr Raab told MPs that the Government has been “allocated 14 places on an Air New Zealand fight today for UK nationals and their dependants”.

The Foreign Office has declined to say how many British nationals 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.

Coronavirus
An aircraft repatriating British nationals from the coronavirus-hit city of Wuhan in China, arrives at RAF Brize Norton (Ben Birchall/PA)

The updated Foreign Office advice comes after Mr Hancock said on Monday that there were “no plans to evacuate all remaining UK nationals in China”.

He told MPs in the Commons: “There’s an estimated 30,000 UK nationals in China and the proportion of the population who have the virus outside of Wuhan is much lower than in Wuhan itself.”

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

Several Chinese carriers are continuing to operate flights between China and the UK.

They include Air China, China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines and Shenzhen Airlines.

On Tuesday, Mr Hancock met German Health Minister Jens Spahn.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, Mr Hancock said: “We haven’t seen the peak of the coronavirus by a long stretch and we expect more cases in the UK.

“We have a full plan in place to treat all those who have symptoms and test positively for coronavirus and we are working with international partners both to slow the spread and also to do the research that we need to do to find a vaccine.”

Two people, a University of York student and one of their relatives, continue to be treated for coronavirus in the specialist infectious diseases unit at Newcastle Royal Victoria Infirmary.

Meanwhile, health officials are trying to trace 239 people who flew from Wuhan to the UK before travel restrictions associated with the outbreak came into force.

A total of 94 UK nationals and family members have been evacuated to Britain from Wuhan on two flights which arrived on Friday and Sunday.

One passenger was taken to hospital in Oxford after telling medics he had symptoms of a cough and a cold.

The rest of those who came back are currently in quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral.

Meanwhile, Chinese authorities said on Tuesday that the death toll in mainland China from the coronavirus outbreak has risen to 425, with the number of cases now standing at 20,438.

In an interview with PA on Tuesday, a British man who fears he contracted coronavirus said he has been given no indication of when he will be able to leave Wuhan.

Jamie Morris, a 23-year-old teacher from New Tredegar in South Wales, said he believes he may have contracted the virus at the end of November, before the mass outbreak prompted global media attention.

He said he had not been able to make the recent flights back to the UK because his passport had been given to the Chinese government to extend his residency permit.

He said that when he has contacted the Foreign Office’s crisis team in London “they just tell me to be patient and they will be in touch if anything changes.

“I am currently on my own in my apartment, isolated from the outside world as you would say.

“At this point, I am willing to go to any other country, but it’s all down to the UK embassy.”

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

The World Health Organisation said on Tuesday that it is still early in the outbreak, but coronavirus does not yet constitute a pandemic.

PA