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Coronavirus: Flight taking Britons out of Wuhan ‘unable to take off’

People arrive at Heathrow Airport wearing face masks Image copyright EPA

A flight to bring about 200 British nationals back to the UK from coronavirus-hit Wuhan is unable to take off as planned on Thursday.

It is understood relevant permissions from Chinese officials have not yet come through.

The Foreign Office said it was “working urgently” to organise a flight to the UK “as soon as possible”.

The virus has caused at least 170 deaths, spreading to every Chinese region and at least 16 other countries.

The flight from Wuhan, the city where the virus first emerged, had been expected to arrive at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on Thursday morning. Passengers were to be taken to an NHS facility.

When the passengers do return they will be put in “supported isolation” for 14 days with “all necessary medical attention”, a Downing Street spokesman said.

The Foreign Office said a number of other countries’ flights had also been unable to take off as planned.

“We remain in close contact with the Chinese authorities and conversations are ongoing at all levels,” a spokeswoman said.

Chinese health authorities said there were 7,711 confirmed coronavirus cases in the country as of Wednesday night.

Hundreds of foreign nationals are being evacuated from Wuhan, with Japan, the US and the EU among those repatriating their citizens.

Some 200 Japanese nationals have been flown from Wuhan and have landed at Tokyo’s Haneda airport.

Roughly 200 Americans – including workers from the local US consulate – have also left Wuhan on an evacuation flight.

However, a number of UK citizens in China said local authorities had prevented members of their families from leaving because they held Chinese passports.

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Media captionJeff Siddle’s wife will have to stay behind in Wuhan when he leaves with their daughter

Jeff Siddle, from Northumberland, told the BBC he and his nine-year-old daughter had been told they could fly back – but not his Chinese his wife, who has a permanent residency visa for the UK.

“My wife is distraught,” he said. “The Chinese authorities are not allowing any Chinese residents to leave.”

He added: “I had to make a decision where it’s either my nine-year-old daughter, who’s got a British passport, and myself to leave – and leave my wife here in China – or the three of us stay.”

Another UK citizen due to be flown out of Wuhan said she was told to leave behind her three-year-old son because he has a Chinese passport.

Image caption Natalie Francis works as a teacher in Wuhan

Natalie Francis, originally from York, said: “I literally had no words when I got the call.”

“All three of us are in Wuhan at the moment,” she added. “Physically we are fine, but the stress of being locked up for so long… the emotional health is starting to suffer a little bit… especially after this news.”

The Foreign Office said its priority was to keep British nationals and their families together.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) will decide later whether the virus constitutes a global health emergency.

“In the last few days the progress of the virus, especially in some countries, especially human-to-human transmission, worries us,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday, pointing to Germany, Vietnam and Japan.

“Although the numbers outside China are still relatively small, they hold the potential for a much larger outbreak.”

How deadly is coronavirus?

It is a basic question, but the answer is elusive.

It is far too simplistic to take the 170 deaths and the 7,711 cases and come up with a death rate of 2%.

We are in the middle of the outbreak and thousands of those patients are still being treated. We don’t know if they will live or die, so they can’t be used in these calculations.

We also don’t know how many mild and undetected cases are out there.

Also, the deadliness of the new virus is only one component of its threat.

‘Flu kills hundreds of thousands of people each year, not because it is super-deadly, but because it is able to infect so many people.

Learn more about the new virus

Image copyright Getty

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Media captionWhat are viruses? And how do they spread?


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