The UK government will quarantine British citizens who return from Wuhan province for up to 2 weeks in a secure facility, in order to halt the spread of the Coronavirus.
Around 200 British nationals will fly out from Wuhan province, and have agreed to be put under a voluntary quarantine for 2 weeks when they return, even if they show no signs of the virus. A government source said that the safety of British nationals is “paramount,” but that “they do need to be kept properly isolated. We want to get them out but there is no option about quarantine – if they won’t be quarantined they will have to stay in Wuhan.”
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The flight was originally scheduled for Thursday morning, but was cancelled Wednesday night, as it was revealed that Chinese authorities had not yet granted the relevant permissions for the flight to go ahead as planned. A spokesman for Downing Street said that they were “working urgently” to arrange a new flight as fast as possible. “We remain in close contact with the Chinese authorities and conversations are ongoing at all levels,” the spokesman added.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, said on Twitter on Wednesday that they were “working hard” to return British nationals from Wuhan:
We are working hard to get British nationals back from Wuhan.
Public safety is the top priority.
Anyone who returns from Wuhan will be safely isolated for 14 days, with all neccessary medical attention.
— Matt Hancock (@MattHancock) January 29, 2020
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It is rumoured that after the passengers land at RAF Brize Norton, they may be held at a military base – the government has yet to comment on this at the time of publication. They may instead be held at a secure NHS facility, where they can receive proper treatment if necessary.
As the government will be chartering a civilian aircraft for the flight, it is not known how they intend the crew to operate – they may perform their duties wearing hazmat suits, or may also be required to enter voluntary quarantine.
Anyone with dual British-Chinese nationality will not be allowed on the flight. The Prime Minister’s Press Secretary said that their priority is to “keep British nationals and their families together and we have urgently raised this with the Chinese authorities including through the foreign secretary speaking to his counterpart yesterday,” but that “it is Chinese policy that those with Chinese dual or mono-nationality cannot leave Wuhan through an assisted flight.”
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The death toll of the coronavirus continues to rise. Many airports around the world have suspended their flights to China, and other countries are now likely to follow the example of Britain in putting anyone coming out of Wuhan into quarantine.