Hundreds of British citizens trapped in Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, have been told they will fly out on Friday morning after days of agonising delays.
The 200 people who had registered for the evacuation were informed by the Foreign Office that the flight was scheduled to leave the city’s international airport at 5am. This was confirmed by Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary.
They were told that there would be a two-week quarantine upon arrival, but received no details about how it would be carried out. They will be medically screened before boarding the flight.
British government officials in London said the flight would land at a military base and that the passengers would be taken to a National Health Service facility for two weeks. Current estimates of the incubation period of the virus range from two to 10 days according to the World Health Organization.
Earlier on Thursday, British citizens in Wuhan were informed by text message that their flight, scheduled for that morning, had been “delayed” but no details were provided.
Downing Street said the flight had not taken off as UK officials “haven’t got the necessary clearances and we are working with the Chinese authorities on securing those”.
The US evacuated 210 citizens on Tuesday, while Japan has conducted two evacuation flights. France and the EU said they would jointly send two aeroplanes to the city, but their departure times have not been confirmed.
Those hoping to leave the stricken city, where over 2,000 people have been confirmed as infected with the coronavirus, have been prevented from doing so for the past week owing to roadblocks, a ban on transport and the closure of the city’s airport.
British health secretary Matt Hancock tweeted on Wednesday that those returning from Wuhan would be “safely isolated for 14 days, with all necessary medical attention”, without providing details. British citizens have been concerned about what form the isolation will take, but have not received any details.
Japanese and US officials have said that those returning from Wuhan will be allowed to self-quarantine if they do not display symptoms and tests for the virus, which can be completed in 72 hours, return negative results.
By contrast, Canberra has said it will isolate its citizens evacuated from Wuhan on Christmas Island, 2,100 miles north-west of Australia.
Patrick Brogan, a British tourist in Wuhan who had registered for the flight, said he would have to leave his Chinese girlfriend behind because Beijing is only allowing Britons on the flight.
“I’m pleased [to be leaving], but also sad to leave my girlfriend behind,” he said. “I would prefer to know the details of what will happen [on arrival]. We’ve had no information.
“This news [of the flight time] broke on Twitter first. I’m frustrated by the lack of information.”
Others waiting to leave the city include Veronica Theobald, an 81-year-old from Lancaster, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and said she was running low on medication.
Mr Brogan said he was also running short on supplies of his daily medication.
“There are people here without medication, getting more and more worried by the day. We haven’t even been offered help how to get it,” he said.