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January 28, 2020

Foreign Office working to get Britons out of China’s Hubei

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P
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January 28, 2020

LONDON: Ministers are working to get Britons out of coronavirus-hit Hubei province in China, as Public Health England acknowledged that the first UK case is likely to come from somebody already in the country.

In an updated statement, the Foreign Office said anyone in the province who needs assistance can call a 24-hour helpline. A spokesman said: “We are working to make an option available for British nationals to leave Hubei province due to the heavy travel restrictions and increased difficulty of accessing consular or medical assistance.

“The safety and security of British nationals is our number one priority. We continue to monitor developments closely and are in close touch with the Chinese authorities.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman said: “The Foreign Office are in close contact with international partners, including the US and European countries, to investigate possible solutions.”

The move comes as Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director and director of health protection for PHE, said the first UK case is likely to come from somebody already in the country.

In an interview with Sky News, she said: “Our view is that, although airports are important, the most likely place that we might find a case is somebody in the country already, and it’s absolutely critical that the public health service and the NHS are ready to diagnose that and are able to designate the person to the right facilities.

“That’s the most likely scenario we are dealing with.” Asked if she was alarmed about a UK case, she said: “I think, with infections, health is global. We’ve been here before, we’ve dealt with Middle Eastern virus, we’ve dealt with Sars, we deal with flu regularly, which can be dangerous, but we’re ready.”

Some 73 people have now been tested for coronavirus in the UK, although all have come back negative. The current risk to the public remains low, the Department of Health has said, adding that the government is continuing to monitor the situation closely.

Earlier on Monday, former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested airlifts for UK citizens in China could occur and warned of the pressure the coronavirus could put on the NHS. Asked if he supported flying Britons back from Wuhan and elsewhere, he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think I would be very sympathetic and I’m sure the Foreign Office would be too.”

He said the NHS is well-equipped to deal with patients returning with the virus but warned that it could strain the service. “This is a very difficult time of year for the NHS - it is the most difficult time. But, again, my experience is that the NHS does know how to cope with these kinds of emergencies.”

The overall number of cases of coronavirus now stand at almost 8,000, with 81 deaths confirmed in China. Hubei province has been on lockdown for several days as China seeks to contain the illness.

A pair of British teachers who have been working in Wuhan say they have not left their apartment for five days, that all transport has been stopped and “there is no place to go”, and “so we are pretty much stuck”.

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