British Airways suspends all flights to China amid coronavirus outbreak

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.

QM2 passengers hit by norovirus

Up to 200 passengers aboard the luxury cruise liner, Queen Mary 2 have contracted norovirus, commonly known as the winter vomiting bug.

The ship, which is owned by British-American cruise line company, Cunard, is on a 13-night luxury Christmas tour of the Caribbean, after leaving New York on Saturday, December 22. Approximately 2,600 passengers are on the GBP550m ship, with ticket prices costing as much as GBP5,000 per person.

Reports claim that several of the 200 victims of the illness began to suffer the symptoms of vomiting and diarrhoea within hours of the ship leaving port. Efforts are being made to contain the infection by isolating those that have been diagnosed in their cabins, and hand-to-hand contact with other passengers and items such as salt and pepper shakers is being discouraged.

The Daily Mail quoted Michele Andjel, spokeswoman for Carnival, as saying, ‘Enhanced sanitation protocols have been employed to help minimise transmission to other passengers. The safety and comfort of passengers and crew is always our number one priority. As is currently standard procedure across our fleet, all the ship’s passengers were provided with a precautionary health notice advising of widespread norovirus activity and the health measures to avoid contraction and spread, both on board and whilst ashore.’

The infection aboard the QM2 is the latest in a number of similar incidents that have plagued the cruise industry of late. It also follows a report last year by US sanitation inspectors who, following a spot-check on the QM2, described it as ‘filthy’ due to a number of problems including dirty water in a splash pool and fruit flies and cockroaches in a storage locker.

The liner, which is currently in the Dominican Republic, is due to return to New York on January 4, following further stopovers in St. Lucia, Barbados and St. Kitts.