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Coronavirus: UK tells all Britons to leave China ‘if they can’

All Britons in China should leave the country if they can to minimise the risk of exposure to the new coronavirus, the Foreign Office has said.

The Foreign Office said it continued to work to evacuate Britons from Hubei province where the outbreak began.

Commercial flights are available from other parts of China.

“The safety and security of British people will always be our top priority,” said the foreign secretary.

Dominic Raab said: “We now advise British nationals in China to leave the country if they can, to minimise their risk of exposure to the virus.

“Where there are still British nationals in Hubei province who wish to be evacuated, we will continue to work around the clock to facilitate this.”

The change in advice comes as China’s most senior leaders including President Xi Jinping have admitted there were “shortcomings” in the way the country dealt with the new coronavirus outbreak.

There were an estimated 30,000 British citizens still in China, Mr Raab told the BBC on Sunday.

With the death toll from the virus rising to 425, and more than 20,000 confirmed cases, the decision by the UK follows similar advice by the US in recent days.

Previously the Foreign Office had advised against all but essential travel to China, while warning against any travel to Hubei province, including the city of Wuhan where the outbreak is thought to have begun.

‘Last flight’

BBC China correspondent Robin Brant said the new advice was “not because we’ve seen a sudden increase in the severity of the outbreak of the virus”.

Instead, he said it appeared to be prompted by the Foreign Office organising what it was calling “the last flight” to evacuate Wuhan.

The UK was also moving non-essential staff out from its embassy and consulates in China, so “there are fewer people who can help any Britons in distress”, he said.

On Friday, 83 UK citizens were repatriated on a flight out of Wuhan arranged by the UK government. Another 11 Britons joined them on Sunday on a French flight.

They are now being held in isolation at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral for 14 days – the incubation period of the virus – to ensure that they are not infected.

Mr Raab told the House of Commons that there were another 14 places for British citizens on an Air New Zealand Flight on Tuesday.

But shadow foreign minister Afzal Khan said the evacuation of Wuhan had been a “shambles”.


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