Coronavirus: can you travel to China and how dangerous is it?

Airlines suspend flights as UK government warns against ‘all but essential travel’

Child in China
(Image credit: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

The UK Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel to mainland China as the death toll from the new strain of coronavirus sweeping across the Asian nation reaches 132.

British Airways (BA) has suspended all flights to and from the mainland as global authorities struggle to contain the outbreak, which is believed to have spread to at least 16 other countries.

More than 6,000 people worldwide are confirmed to be infected with the new virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, in Hubei province.

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What is the official advice?

The latest advice from the UK government warns against “all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China (not including Hong Kong and Macao)”.

The Foreign Office (FCO) had already warned against all travel to Hubei province, urging Britons in the area to leave if possible.

The department notes that the Chinese government is imposing further restrictions on movement nationwide, and warns that “it may become harder over the coming weeks for those who wish to leave China to do so”.

British nationals who do choose to visit China during the outbreak have been told to expect to face temperature checks, quarantine measures and other restrictions on travel within the mainland. The FCO notes that “medical facilities across the country are under significant pressure” and warns that some may not accept new patients.

The department adds: “Some businesses have closed. Many tourist attractions are closed. The Ministry of Culture and Tourism has suspended all tour group companies’ activities to prevent further virus spread.”

The US has also advised its citizens to “reconsider” any planned visits to China, with the State Department this week raising the threat from “Level 2: Exercise Increased Caution” to “Level 3: Reconsider Travel”, CNN reports.

The threat for Hubei is “Level 4: Do Not Travel”, with Americans advised to avoid the province.

Are airlines still flying to China?

BA has announced the suspension of flights to and from mainland China "with immediate effect" until at least 31 January. The airline usually operates daily services to Shanghai and Beijing.

Other carriers including United Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways and Air Canada have also cancelled flights to China.

What if you need to travel to China?

As well as keeping an eye on official government advice, contact your airline to check which flights they are operating. It might be possible to travel to the mainland via Hong Kong.

If you do go ahead and visit China while restrictions are in place, it is more important than ever to ensure you have comprehensive travel and medical insurance.

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What about evacuations?

Britons currently in Hubei province have complained that the UK government is not doing enough to help them. British-Canadian couple Tom and Lauren Williams told the BBC they are trapped in Wuhan and are expecting a baby in a month.

The father-to-be said: “Just advice would be great and very clear direction about what’s happening so we can make plans.”

The BBC says up to 300 British people are thought to be stuck in Hubei. Other countries including the US are preparing to evacuate civilians from the province, but UK citizens in the regoin say they have been given “little information” by their own government.

Asked about plans to repatriate Britons, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the BBC: “We are working on it.”

The local British consulate was gathering information on Britons locally “in order to help repatriate where appropriate”, he said.

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