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Foreign Office warns ALL British people to LEAVE China

Foreign Office warns ALL 30,000 British people in China to LEAVE as global death toll from deadly coronavirus outbreak hits 427

  • Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said British people’s safety was the top priority
  • The Government had already advised people not to go to China unless necessary
  • Now they recommend that anybody there should leave as soon as possible
  • British Airways, among other airlines, has stopped flying to Shanghai or Beijing 

The UK Foreign Office has today told all 30,000 British nationals in China to get out of the country as the death toll from the coronavirus sweeping the world hit 427.

In a drastic escalation of its official advice to avoid the country, the Government is now urging people to actively leave in a bid to protect their own health.

But evacuees must pay their own way out of the locked-down nation.

Officials said people will be left to find ‘commercial options’ and stump up for travel costs themselves.

There will be no more evacuation flights arranged by the British Government, officials said today, but people in Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak, may be able to hitch rides out of the disaster zone on other countries’ planes.

And there has been backlash online with people worried that telling people in China to scatter risks spreading the disease further, and that the UK can’t keep tabs on everyone returning in order to screen them for infection. 

The move comes after Health Secretary Matt Hancock today said the UK expects to see more cases of the disease and that the peak of the outbreak is a long way off.  

Only two people have been diagnosed so far on British soil – they are being treated in isolation at a hospital in Newcastle.  

The global coronavirus situation as it stands is:

  • At least 20,702 people are confirmed to have been infected and 472 are dead
  • 28 countries and territories around the world have confirmed cases
  • Belgium today became the latest country to confirm, with one patient in hospital  
  • Hong Kong and the Philippines have recorded the first deaths outside of China
  • The World Health Organization considers the outbreak a global emergency
  • A study published yesterday all but confirmed the virus has spread from bats 
  • At least 30 commercial global airlines have cancelled flights to and from China 

The UK Foreign Office, headed by Dominic Raab (pictured) has told all British nationals in China to come home if they can

More than 20,000 people have now been infected with the Chinese coronavirus and more than 425 people have died around the world 

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said today: ‘The safety and security of British people will always be our top priority. 

‘As such, 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 upgraded warning comes after people still stuck in the Hubei province, which is at the centre of the outbreak and has had the vast majority of cases and deaths, were told to get in touch with the Foreign Office (FCO) if they want to come home.

Although the FCO earlier said it was not planning any more of its own flights to repatriate people, citizens may be allowed on other countries’ missions. 

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office today made the unprecedented step of advising all British nationals in China to leave, if they can.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the BBC that there is an estimated 30,000 British citizens scattered across China.

Ministers have not put on any special flights to escort Britons out of the country, despite issuing the advice to leave China. 

Instead, it said commercial airline options for departing China remain available throughout the country – except in Hubei province. 

Mr Raab said: ‘The safety and security of British people will always be our top priority. 

‘As such, 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.’

Flight sharing between European countries has been going on since the evacuations began. 

Eleven British citizens were brought back to Oxfordshire on a plane operated by the French government on Sunday, and almost 30 foreign nationals returned on the UK’s flight last week, which was chartered from a Spanish company.

Flying out of China on a commercial flight is getting increasingly difficult as airlines around the world are reducing or stopping their services to the mainland.

The Hubei province has already been locked down and seen airports and public transport closed, but wider areas of the country are affected, too.  

British Airways has already stopped its flights between London and Beijing and Shanghai.

And all airlines in the US will have stopped flying to and from the mainland by tomorrow, Wednesday.

Other airlines which have suspended all services to and from mainland China include Air France, Air Seoul, American Airlines, Austrian Airlines, British Airways, Delta Airlines, Egyptair, El Israeli Airlines, Finnair (from Feb 6), Iberia Airlines, Kenya Airways, Lion Air, Lufthansa, Oman Air, Qantas Airways, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, all Russian airlines except Aeroflot, Rwandair, SAS (Norway), Saudia, Scoot (Singapore), Turkish Airlines, Turkmenistan Airlines, United Airlines, Vietjet, Vietnam Airlines and Virgin Atlantic.

Those which have reduced their services are Air Canada, Air India, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, LOT Polish Airlines and Philippines Airlines. 

Grounded flights are seen on the tarmac at Wuhan’s Tianhe Airport, which stopped allowing commercial flights in and out more than 10 days ago

The number of Wuhan coronavirus cases around the world has soared since the outbreak took off in January, with more than 20,000 people now infected

More than 400 people have now died as a result of the Wuhan coronavirus, which causes pneumonia in the elderly or those with weakened immune systems

Russia and Mongolia have also closed their land borders with China, and Hong Kong suspended its ferries and high-speed trains out of the mainland. 

Escapees’ may have to travel to a neighbouring country by land and try to fly if they want to get out of the country.

However some, particularly if they have been in Wuhan or the Hubei province of which it is the capital, are likely to face pushback at whatever border they go to. 

Cesca Brindley, a 23-year-old from Cambridgeshire who is stuck in Cambodia, said she can’t get on a plane because she had come from Wuhan, where she works as a teacher.

She was trying to get on a plane home from Cambodia via Malaysia but was turned away at the gate, she told MailOnline.   

‘We were not told we would be unable to board until at check-in, where we were told there is nothing they can do,’ Miss Brindley said.

‘Malaysia will not allow anyone who has been to Wuhan to enter their country.     

‘The only flights we can get out of Cambodia will not let us board, despite no information online saying this.’ 

Cesca Brindley, a 23-year-old from Cambridgeshire, is stuck in Cambodia. She works as a teacher in Wuhan and because she travelled from the city, she says, airlines will no longer let her on board

The Foreign Office’s update comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock said more cases of coronavirus are expected to appear in the UK.

Speaking before a meeting with German Health Minister Jens Spahn on Tuesday, 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.’

Officials are still trying to track down 239 people who flew into the UK from Wuhan, the city at the centre of China’s escalating crisis, in January.

Almost 1,500 people flew from Wuhan to the UK between January 10 and January 24 before all flights in and out of the Chinese city were cancelled.

Most have been here for long enough to be out of an infection risk period and 200 have already left the UK but dozens are still being traced by Public Health England. 

The SARS-like infection can lurk in patients for up to 14 days without producing any symptoms, meaning they can be contagious without being visibly sick. 

Therefore it is feasible that people who flew to the UK between January 21 and 24 could be infected but not know it. 

It’s not known whether the UK’s two confirmed patients, who are both in hospital in Newcastle, made that flight during January – one of them is a student in York. 

What do we know about the Wuhan coronavirus?

Someone who is infected with the Wuhan coronavirus can spread it with just a simple cough or a sneeze, scientists say.

At least 427 people with the virus are now confirmed to have died and more than 20,700 have been infected in at least 28 countries and regions. But experts predict the true number of people with the disease could be 100,000, or even as high as 350,000 in Wuhan alone, as they warn it may kill as many as two in 100 cases. Here’s what we know so far:


Travel plans of tens of thousands of passengers were thrown into chaos last week when British Airways cancelled all flights to and from mainland China.

The airline made the unprecedented decision in the wake of Foreign Office guidance warning against all but essential travel to the country.

BA carries up to 4,700 passengers a week to China, meaning tens of thousands will be affected by the decision. Bookings have been suspended until March.

Virgin Atlantic last week also announced it would suspend all flights between Britain and Shanghai for two weeks. Flights to Hong Kong are not affected.

Foreign Office officials said other commercial airlines are still operating – but admitted getting on a flight could become more difficult in the coming days.

Airlines around the world have reacted similarly to the coronavirus outbreak, with many reducing or stopping services to the mainland.

The Hubei province has already been locked down and seen airports and public transport closed, but wider areas of the country are affected, too.

Major US carriers American Airlines, Delta and United will have stopped flying to and from the mainland by tomorrow, Wednesday.

American has suspended all flights to China until March 27. Delta said it is suspending all of its US flights to China from tomorrow until April 30.

United was suspending all flights, except one daily from San Francisco to Hong Kong. Its ban will be in effect until March 28.

Other airlines which have suspended all services to and from mainland China include:

  • Air France
  • Air Seoul
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Egyptair
  • El Israeli Airlines
  • Finnair
  • Iberia Airlines
  • Kenya Airways
  • Lion Air
  • Lufthansa
  • Oman Air
  • Qantas Airways
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Air Maroc
  • all Russian airlines except Aeroflot
  • Rwandair
  • SAS (Norway)
  • Saudia, Scoot (Singapore)
  • Turkish Airlines
  • Turkmenistan Airlines
  • Vietjet
  • Vietnam Airlines

Those which have reduced their services are:

  • Air Canada
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Emirates
  • Etihad
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Philippines Airlines

What is the Wuhan coronavirus?

A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.

The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It is currently named 2019-nCoV, and does not have a more detailed name because so little is known about it.

Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals.

‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses).

‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’

The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started seeing infections on December 31.

By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.

The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.

Just a week after that, there had been more than 800 confirmed cases and those same scientists estimated that some 4,000 – possibly 9,700 – were infected in Wuhan alone. By that point, 26 people had died.

By January 27, more than 2,800 people were confirmed to have been infected, 81 had died, and estimates of the total number of cases ranged from 100,000 to 350,000 in Wuhan alone.

By January 29, the number of deaths had risen to 132 and cases were in excess of 6,000.

Where does the virus come from?

Nobody knows for sure. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.

The first cases of the virus in Wuhan came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in the city, which has since been closed down for investigation.

Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat.

Bats are a prime suspect – researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences said in a recent statement: ‘The Wuhan coronavirus’ natural host could be bats… but between bats and humans there may be an unknown intermediate.’

And another scientific journal article has suggested the virus first infected snakes, which may then have transmitted it to people at the market in Wuhan.

Peking University researchers analysed the genes of the coronavirus and said they most closely matched viruses which are known to affect snakes. They said: ‘Results derived from our evolutionary analysis suggest for the first time that snake is the most probable wildlife animal reservoir for the 2019-nCoV,’ in the Journal of Medical Virology.

So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it?

Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.

It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs.

Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.

Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.

‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’

If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die.

‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.

‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’

How does the virus spread?

The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.

It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky.

Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.

There is now evidence that it can spread third hand – to someone from a person who caught it from another person.

What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?

Once someone has caught the virus it may take between two and 14 days for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.

If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients – at least 97 per cent, based on available data – will recover from these without any issues or medical help.

In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.

What have genetic tests revealed about the virus?

Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world.

This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.

Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.

However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, yesterday said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.

This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.

More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.

How dangerous is the virus?

The virus has so far killed 427 people out of a total of at least 20,600 officially confirmed cases – a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.

However, experts say the true number of patients is likely considerably higher and therefore the death rate considerably lower. Imperial College London researchers estimate that there were 4,000 (up to 9,700) cases in Wuhan city alone up to January 18 – officially there were only 444 there to date. If cases are in fact 100 times more common than the official figures, the virus may be far less dangerous than currently believed.


The vast majority of confirmed infections of the Wuhan coronavirus have been diagnosed in China.

But more than 25 countries or territories outside of the mainland have also declared infections: 

  • Belgium: 1 case, first case February 4 
  • Spain: 1 case, first case January 31 
  • Sweden: 1 case, first case January 31 
  • Russia: 2 cases, first case January 31 
  • UK: 2 cases, first case January 31 
  • India: 3 cases, first case January 30 
  • Philippines: 2 cases, first case January 30 
  • Italy: 2 cases, first case January 30
  • Finland: 1 case, first case January 29
  • United Arab Emirates: 5 cases, first case January 29 
  • Germany: 12 cases, first case Jan 27
  • Sri Lanka: 1 case, first case Jan 27
  • Cambodia: 1 case, first case Jan 27
  • Canada: 4 cases, first case Jan 25
  • Australia: 12 cases, first case Jan 25
  • Malaysia: 10 cases, first case Jan 25
  • France: 6 cases, first case January 24
  • Nepal: 1 case, first case January 24
  • Vietnam: 8 cases, first case Jan 24
  • Singapore: 24 cases, first case January 23
  • Macau: 10 cases, first case Jan 22
  • Hong Kong: 15 cases, first case January 22 
  • Taiwan: 10 cases, first case Jan 21 
  • USA: 11 cases, first case January 20
  • South Korea: 15 cases, first case January 20
  • Japan: 20 cases, first case January 16
  • Thailand: 25 cases, first case Jan 13

Experts say it is likely only the most seriously ill patients are seeking help and are therefore recorded – the vast majority will have only mild, cold-like symptoms. For those whose conditions do become more severe, there is a risk of developing pneumonia which can destroy the lungs and kill you.

Can the virus be cured?

The Wuhan coronavirus cannot currently be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.

Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.

No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.

The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology .

Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.

People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.

And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).

However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.

Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?

The outbreak has not officially been confirmed as either an epidemic or a pandemic yet. This is likely because, despite the global concern, the number of people who have been confirmed to be infected is still relatively low.

A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.

An epidemic is when a disease takes hold of a smaller community, such as a single country, region or continent. 

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  • Posted on February 16, 2020