January 30, 2020 / 7:52 AM / 18 days ago

British evacuation flight cleared to leave coronavirus epicentre in China

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain will fly around 150 British citizens and 50 non-British nationals out of the Chinese city of Wuhan, the government said on Thursday, after an earlier departure was blocked by Chinese authorities.

FILE PHOTO: British Airways logos are seen on tailfins at Heathrow Airport in west London, Britain May 12, 2011. REUTERS/Toby Melville/Files

Infections from China’s coronavirus spread to more than 8,100 people globally on Thursday, surpassing the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic’s total in a fast-spreading health crisis forecast to pummel the world’s second-largest economy.

“We are pleased to have confirmation from the Chinese authorities that the evacuation flight from Wuhan airport to the UK can depart at 0500 local time on Friday (2100 GMT on Thursday),” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.

The flight had previously been expected to leave on Thursday morning. A government spokesman said any British citizens who were eligible for the flight would be given a seat.

The plane has been chartered by the British government from a Spanish company. It will unload British citizens at a military base in England and then travel on to Spain, where Spanish and other passengers will disembark.

Those returning to the United Kingdom will be quarantined for 14 days at a National Health Service facility once they return. Those already infected will not be allowed to leave Wuhan.

Some British citizens have spoken of being told they are unable to bring family members with Chinese passports out of the city. A government spokesman said that Britain was still working with Chinese authorities to resolve the issue.

Natalie Francis, 31, an English teacher in Wuhan, said she was told by the Foreign Office that she could not bring her three-year-old son, Jamie, home because he has a Chinese passport even though he is a British citizen.

“They said anyone with Chinese nationality or other citizenship is not being allowed to go on,” Francis told The Sun newspaper.

“I’m like, ‘So yeah, you want me to just abandon my son in China, and go home?’”

Reporting by William James and Guy Faulconbridge; editing by James Davey

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