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Coronavirus evacuation flight cleared for take off

Evacuation: A Korean jet takes off for Wuhan to repatriate its citizens, but today's UK flight out failed to gain clearance PICTURE: EPA

AN evacuation flight to bring British nationals back to the UK from the Chinese city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak will leave tonight, the foreign secretary has said.

The flight is due to leave Wuhan city at 5am local time on Friday morning, which is 9pm this evening UK time.

Meanwhile, a man who fell ill while staying at a hotel in York was taken to hospital last night following advice from Public Health England.

The man, believed to be a Chinese national, is undergoing tests for coronavirus.

In Scotland, the chief medical officer has said a positive case of coronavirus in the country is ‘highly likely’ in the coming days.

On the evacuation, Dominic Raab said: ‘We are pleased to have confirmation from the Chinese authorities that the evacuation flight from Wuhan airport to the UK can depart at 5am local time on Friday 31, January.

‘The safety and security of British nationals is our top priority.

‘Our embassy in Beijing and consular teams remain in close contact with British nationals in the region to ensure they have the latest information they need.’

Speaking at a Policy Exchange event in Westminster earlier, Mr Raab said officials in the Foreign Office had ‘been working tirelessly’ to get citizens out of Wuhan.

He added: ‘We’ve been working with the Department of Health flat out, 24/7, to try and make sure we can identify British nationals in Wuhan, get them to a muster point and get them to a flight, a chartered flight in and out.’

Security measures: British nationals returning from Wuhan are expected to be quarantined on a military base like this one in Strensall, North Yorkshire, which was set up during the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone PICTURES: PA

The flight will land at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

Passengers will then be taken to an NHS facility in the North West for a quarantine period of 14 days, sources told PA.

Officials have been working to secure a flight out of Wuhan for British nationals after one planned for today failed to get clearance from Chinese authorities.

The government anticipates flying out around 200 UK citizens who have been in Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province.

Kharn Lambert, whose grandmother Veronica Theobald, 81, from Lancaster, is hoping to leave Wuhan, told the PA news agency he was waiting for a confirmation email with flight details.

‘The situation is, basically, we won’t go to the airport until we receive the confirmation email,’ he said.

Passengers say they have been told only to take hand luggage on the flight.

Jeff Siddle, from Northumberland, told the BBC his family faced a ‘terrible dilemma’ after he and his nine-year-old daughter were told they could fly back — but not his Chinese wife, who has a permanent residency visa for the UK.

Prepared: The quarantine facility might look something like this one, used for a medical training exercise in 2014

Also today, the apartment-hotel in Yorkshire where a man believed to be a Chinese national fell ill was put on lockdown today.

The man, who was a guest at the Staycity Hotel in the centre of York, was taken to hospital by medics last night.

Paramedics wearing special protective clothing entered the hotel, near the city’s Barbican theatre.

A spokeswoman for the firm said: ‘Staycity Group have confirmed that a man, believed to be a Chinese national, staying at the group’s property in York was taken ill yesterday and is understood to be undergoing tests at a local hospital.

‘Paramedics accompanied the man, along with his two travelling companions, out of the property at around 7.50pm last night.

‘Following advice from Public Health England we have been advised that the risk is absolutely minimal and that nothing has been confirmed thus far.

‘The health and safety of our guests and staff are paramount and, as such, the apartment containing the group’s belongings has been sealed off, after which it will undergo a thorough environmental clean and disinfection, as is company policy.’

Developments in Yorkshire comes as Scotland chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood said today: ‘It is highly likely we’ll have a positive case of coronavirus in Scotland in the coming days.’

She added: ‘The public can be assured that Scotland has well-established plans and is well prepared for these types of outbreak.

‘We have a proven track record of dealing with challenging health issues and have established public health and infectious disease experts working round the clock.

‘We have also activated our emergency resilience operation.’

As of today, 16 people are known to have had negative tests north of the border for the virus.

Most of them were quarantined through self-isolation at home, although those with more serious conditions were taken to hospital.

A meeting was held yesterday, chaired by the first minister, to discuss the spread of the virus and Scotland’s preparations for a contamination.

Well-trained: NHS staff receiving training in disease control in 2014

South of the border, Professor Yvonne Doyle, medical director and director of health protection for Public Health England, said the first UK case is likely to come from someone already in the country.

As of today, a total of 161 tests had been carried out on people across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — all with negative results.

Of 1,466 passengers and 95 staff who arrived in the UK from Wuhan between January 10 and 24, some 162 have already left the UK and 760 are now outside the 14-day incubation period for the virus.

Meanwhile, British Airways has extended its suspension of all flights to and from mainland China until Monday, although Virgin Atlantic continues to operate flights between Heathrow and Shanghai.

The UK government said the risk to the population remains low.

A plan is in place for dealing with confirmed cases, as is usual for any virus outbreak.

There is also legislation already in place to impose restrictions on people’s movement under public health law if deemed necessary.

Anyone who believes they are showing symptoms for the virus is urged to contact NHS 24.

The developments come as the World Health Organisation (WHO) emergency committee could declare an international public health emergency during its meeting today.

The WHO has said the ‘whole world needs to be on alert’ over the new coronavirus outbreak.

Dr Michael Ryan, executive director at the WHO health emergencies programme, said on Wednesday that the decision to reconvene was due to the increasing number of cases and evidence of person-to-person transmission of the virus.

The number of cases of coronavirus has jumped to 7,711, with 170 deaths.

India confirmed its first case today, as did the Philippines.