British Airways has become the first major carrier to suspend flights to China amid fears of the coronavirus spreading.
The decision comes as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has advised against all travel to the Hubei Province and all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China, except Hong Kong and Macao.
In a statement, 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.”
BA operates daily flights to Shanghai and Beijing from Heathrow.
Culture Secretary Baroness Morgan said the company’s decision to suspend all flights to China would give “more impetus” to the Government’s bid to arrange for Britons to travel home.
“The Foreign Office will be working with staff on the ground to identify UK nationals,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“We will get people home as soon as we can, as soon as we can make arrangements.
“Obviously, today’s decision by British Airways provides more impetus to the Government to make other plans and communicate those.
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“The health system is well prepared. We are not aware of any confirmed cases of the virus here in the UK but we do have the expertise to look after people, to treat and to test should that become necessary.”
The deadline for Britons in Wuhan and surrounding areas to express their wish to leave passed at 3am UK time (11am local time).
It’s believed evacuation flights could begin as early as Thursday.
Travellers returning to the UK will be told to “self-isolate” and stay indoors for 14 days, but there are no plans to forcibly quarantine them, according to the Press Association.
The deadly flu-like virus has killed more than 130 people with around 6,000 cases confirmed worldwide.