UK evacuation plane leaves Wuhan with 110 people on board

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 31 2020 06:05 PM

A general view of the accommodation block that will be used to house repatriated British nationals from Wuhan at Arrowe Park hospital in Birkenhead, Britain, Jan. 31, 2020. Phil Noble, Reuters

LONDON - A plane chartered by Britain to evacuate its citizens and other foreign nationals on Friday departed the Chinese city at the epicenter of a deadly virus outbreak with 110 people aboard.

The civilian aircraft left Wuhan in central China at around 9:45 am local time (9:45 a.m. in Manila) carrying 83 Britons and 27 foreign citizens, according to the Foreign Office.

A small number of medics were on the plane to provide support to passengers, it said.

The jet will land at Brize Norton Royal Air Force base in central England at around 1:00 pm local time, then head to Spain where the remaining EU nationals will disembark. 

The returning Britons will be isolated for 14 days at a medical facility in the northwest of England.

"It's welcome news that our evacuation flight has now left Wuhan," Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

"We know how distressing the situation has been for those waiting to leave. We have been working round the clock to clear the way for a safe departure."

The Wuhan metropolis is at the heart of the SARS-like virus epidemic that has so far killed 213 people and led the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday to declare it an international public health emergency.

The city of 11 million has been subject to an unprecedented lockdown, preventing residents from leaving in a bid to stop the deadly virus from spreading further.

Thousands of foreigners were among millions of people confined in Wuhan, and numerous countries have begun airlifting their citizens out.

'VERY EMPTY'

London had hoped its flight would leave earlier but was forced to delay due to issues getting approval for the departure from Chinese officials. 

British officials had originally planned to repatriate around 200 people, and it was unclear why the eventual number was markedly lower.

Passenger Joe Armitt told Sky News television the plane was "very empty" because people were not given enough notice to get to the airport in time.

Armitt added he was only given 3 hours' notice the flight was leaving and that UK officials had warned the Chinese government potentially may not allow his wife to leave.

On arrival, the British evacuees will be taken by bus to Arrowe Park Hospital in northwest England for a 2-week quarantine period.

They will be housed in an accommodation block usually used by health service staff, with access to the internet.

Anyone with suspicious symptoms will be taken to the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen Hospital, which has a high-level infectious diseases unit.