British Airways, the flag carrier airline of the United Kingdom, has suspended all flights to and from mainland China as coronavirus hit the province of Hubei, Alliance News has reported.
The move comes as the British government is working on urgent plans to bring UK nationals back from Hubei. The Foreign Office has warned against ‘all but essential travel’ to mainland China, saying it may become more difficult for British nationals in other provinces to leave following the virus outbreak. The death toll in China has risen to 132, with confirmed virus infections rising to nearly 6,000.
The British airline, which operates daily flights to Shanghai and Beijing from Heathrow, said that it was suspending the flights, with immediate effect following Foreign Office instruction.
British Airways said: ‘We have suspended all flights to and from mainland China with immediate effect following advice from the Foreign Office against all but essential travel.
‘We apologise to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority. Customers due to travel to or from China in the coming days can find more information on ba.com.’
Citing an unnamed source in Wuhan city, the report said that UK citizens were being given details of forthcoming flights, adding that flights taking Britons back home could begin as early as Thursday.
The deadline for those stuck in the city of Wuhan and surrounding areas to contact the British consulate if they wished to leave passed at 3am UK time, which was 11am local time, it added.
The Foreign Office said that UK nationals in China should ‘make decisions based on their own personal circumstances’ over whether to leave other parts of the country. The British embassy in Beijing has said UK citizens may get transport facility quickly and with short notice.
In the UK, people returning will be asked to ‘self-isolate’ and stay indoors for 14 days, but there are no plans to forcibly quarantine them, the report said. The Department of Health and Social Care said that 97 people in the UK have been given the all-clear for the virus, although scientists predict it may have entered the country.
China has imposed travel restrictions between its major cities, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has suspended all tour activities to prevent further virus spread.