Britain is preparing to evacuate and quarantine around 200 nationals stranded in the Chinese city at the epicentre of a deadly virus outbreak, the government said on Wednesday.
Downing Street said the civilian charter flight from Wuhan would leave on Thursday but did not confirm where it would land in the UK.
“We are expecting about 200 British nationals to be on board. There is the capacity on the flight for everybody,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman told reporters.
“On arrival passengers will be safely isolated for two weeks with all the necessary medical attention.”
Health Secretary Matt Hancock meanwhile chaired an emergencies committee meeting to discuss the planned measures, as the preparations gained pace and calls mounted at home for action.
Wuhan metropolis is at the heart of the coronavirus epidemic that has so far killed 132 people and infected around 6,000 as it spreads around the world.
“We are working hard to get British nationals back from Wuhan,” Hancock wrote on Twitter before the meeting. “Public safety is the top priority.”
Thousands of foreigners are among millions of people stuck in Wuhan as China struggles to get to grips with the spread of the SARS-like virus.
Meanwhile British Airways and other foreign airlines began suspending flights to and from China on Wednesday as global fears mounted over its continued spread.
In London, the Foreign Office, which is coordinating the evacuation of British nationals, declined to give details of the arrangements being made.
Johnson’s spokesman said the government was working to keep British nationals and their families together, following reports that non-UK citizens would not be allowed to leave.
“Our priority is to keep British nationals and their families together and we have urgently raised this with the Chinese authorities,” he added.
Once back on British soil, evacuees will be held at a facility likely on a military base, Britain’s domestic Press Association news agency reported.
A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence said no decision had been made yet on the use of its facilities.
“The armed forces are always ready to assist,” she added.
Britain on Tuesday evening warned nationals against “all but essential travel” to mainland China, not including Hong Kong and Macau, and against all travel to the worst-hit Hubei province.
UK health officials have told about 1,500 people who had come to Britain from Wuhan in the last 14 days to “self-isolate” at home.
The authorities said Wednesday they have so far tested 130 people for the virus, with no confirmed cases.