Flight to evacuate Britons rescheduled – as details of isolation plan emerge

The flight to evacuate Britons stranded in Wuhan because of the coronavirus has been rescheduled – as new details of the plan to isolate them upon their return emerged.

The British nationals were due to leave the Chinese city on Thursday morning but the plane was not able to take off as Chinese authorities had not yet given clearance.

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said Chinese authorities have confirmed the flight will depart Wuhan on Friday at 5am local time (9pm GMT on Thursday) and will land at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on Friday mid-morning.

A patient is taken off an ambulance in Wuhan - the epicentre of the outbreak
Image: A patient is taken off an ambulance in Wuhan – the epicentre of the outbreak

Other details that Sky News understands include:

  • The plane is a private charter from “somewhere in Europe”, not the UK, and will go via another country en route
  • Three military medics and Public Health England (PHE) officials will be onboard, but it will be crewed by civilians
  • Evacuees will be moved to an isolation unit at an unspecified NHS facility to be monitored for 14 days
  • The NHS facility will not be close to Brize Norton and will be somewhere in the North.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman said he had asked Chinese authorities to allow non-British partners and spouses of UK nationals to be allowed to leave Wuhan with them.

“We have pressed that point with the Chinese authorities,” he said.

Sky News understands the passengers will have to agree to whatever treatment is recommended by experts.

As the details were revealed, British Airways announced it was cancelling all flights to mainland China until the end of February, while some other airlines have suspended flights or are offering refunds or date and destination changes.

Passengers wear face masks to protect against the spread of the Coronavirus as they arrive on a flight from Asia at Los Angeles International Airport, California, on January 29, 2020. - A new virus that has killed more than one hundred people, infected thousands and has already reached the US could mutate and spread, China warned, as authorities urged people to steer clear of Wuhan, the city at the heart of the outbreak. (Photo by Mark RALSTON / AFP) (Photo by MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images)
Image: The masks are becoming a common sight at airports

Cruise ship on lockdown

In Italy, 6,000 people are being kept on board a cruise ship as tests are carried out on two Chinese passengers suspected of having coronavirus.

A spokesman for the Costa Crociere cruise company said the couple arrived in Italy on 25 January and boarded the Costa Smeralda in Savona that day before coming down with a fever and breathing difficulties.

The ship docked in Marseilles in France, and the Spanish ports of Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca before docking on Thursday at Civitavecchia, north of Rome.

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The virus spreads

The number of dead in China increased to 170 people on Thursday, with 7,711 confirmed cases, including the first one in Tibet – meaning all regions and territories are now affected.

While there is no vaccine for the coronavirus, which surpassed China’s SARS outbreak of 2002 and 2003 on Wednesday, countries around the world are doing all they can to limit its spread.

Most of the confirmed cases are in Hubei, where several cities remain locked down, but the impact of the outbreak has been becoming more widely felt across the country this week.

On Thursday, IKEA said it was closing all 30 of its stores in China and the Chinese Football Association announced domestic matches had been indefinitely postponed.

The World Athletics Indoor Championships in Nanjing have also been postponed until March 2021.

Queues for protective masks at a drugs store in Singapore
Image: Queues for protective masks at a drugs store in Singapore

The Chinese national health committee has reported 26 cases across Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Tibet, prompting a degree of panic setting in.

People in Hong Kong have been forming enormous queues to buy protective masks, and in Macau a purchase limit is being imposed to ensure they do not sell out too quickly.

While there are relatively few cases outside mainland China and its territories, other countries remain on high alert.

On Thursday, the Philippines confirmed its first case, while Singapore confirmed three new coronavirus patients on the same day, taking the total there to 10.

There are seven cases in Australia, five in the US, and four each in South Korea, France, Germany and the UAE.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 29: People wear medical face masks on the streets of Chinatown on January 29, 2020 in New York City. Sales of medical face masks have seen a sharp increase as fears of coronavirus grow and many retailers have sold out. The coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has now infected more than 6,150 people in more than a dozen countries. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Image: Protective masks spotted in Chinatown in New York

Canada has three confirmed cases, Vietnam has two, and health officials have reported just one case in each of Cambodia, Nepal, Finland, Zambia and Sri Lanka.

With many governments advising their citizens against travel to China, airlines including British Airways and German carrier Lufthansa have started suspending flights to the mainland.

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Anyone who has returned to the UK from Wuhan in recent weeks has been urged to “self-isolate for two weeks, although the Department of Health says 130 tests carried out on potential patients have come back negative.

Despite the precautionary measures being enforced all over the globe, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been reluctant to declare an international public health emergency.

But it could finally make the call during an emergency committee meeting on Thursday.

Dr Michael Ryan, executive director at the WHO health emergencies programme, said on Wednesday: “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.”

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