Britons urged to leave China as Europe steps up warnings

Belgium on Tuesday announced its first coronavirus case, while officials across Europe issued fresh advice.

    Public Health England has been warning passengers arriving on flights into the UK that suspected cases of coronavirus should be immediately reported to a health official [Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP]
    Public Health England has been warning passengers arriving on flights into the UK that suspected cases of coronavirus should be immediately reported to a health official [Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP]

    British citizens were on Tuesday being urged to leave China because of the coronavirus outbreak, while Belgium became the latest nation to announce a confirmed case.

    Commercial airline options remain available throughout China, the UK Foreign Office said in an updated travel advisory notice, with the exception of Hubei province - the epicentre of the outbreak that includes the hard-hit city of Wuhan.

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    Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said UK citizens in China should "leave the country if they can, to minimise their risk of exposure to the virus".

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    "The safety and security of British people will always be our top priority," Raab said in a statement emailed to Al Jazeera.

    More than 50 million people remain under travel restrictions in Hubei.

    "Where there are still British nationals in Hubei province who wish to be evacuated, we will continue to work around the clock to facilitate this," Raab added.

    France also issued an advisory, warning against any non-essential travel to China and suggesting that French citizens in China return home.

    More than 20,400 people have been infected with the virus in China and 425 have died. Two other people have died in the Philippines and Hong Kong and 20 other nations have reported cases.

    Belgium, meanwhile, reported its first case of the coronavirus, found in one of the nine citizens who had been repatriated from Wuhan over the weekend. The health ministry said the person was in good health and didn't show any symptoms of the disease. The infected person was taken to a special hospital for further care while the others remained under observation.

    Germany on Tuesday confirmed two more cases of the virus that include another employee of the auto parts company that was visited by a Chinese colleague two weeks ago and a second child of one of those employees.

    In all, Europe has 28 confirmed cases of the coronavirus: Germany has 12; France six; Russia, Italy and the UK have two each, and Finland, Sweden, Spain and Belgium have one each.

    The European Union's medicines agency said on Tuesday it was taking action to "accelerate the development and availability" of medicines to treat and prevent the virus.

    The Amsterdam-based agency is responsible for evaluating, supervising and monitoring medicines in the 27-nation bloc.

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    It said in a statement that while there are currently no medicines authorised to detect, treat or prevent infections with the new virus it was "ready to support medicine developers with all available regulatory tools to advance and expedite the development of effective measures to fight and prevent the spread of this virus".

    Italy could lose up to 4.5 billion euros ($4.97bn) in tourism revenue this year if coronavirus fears keep visitors away, polling agency Demoskopika said in a study released on Tuesday. The amount represents around 5 percent of the tourism industry's annual contribution to Italy's gross domestic product.

    Driving those fears, four regional Italian governors from the anti-migrant League party formally asked the health ministry to require school-age children from China to undergo 14 days of observation before being allowed back to class.

    Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, however, demanded an end to such discriminatory reactions and Italy's National Health Institute insisted that its precautionary measures for school-age children were sufficient.

    The Russian Defence Ministry said the first of five military transport aircraft used to evacuate Russians from Wuhan took off on Tuesday from an airport in southern Siberia. Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said 132 Russians and 15 citizens of other former Soviet nations were to be evacuated from Wuhan. They will undergo quarantine in southwestern Siberia.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Chinese authorities to work hard to halt the outbreak.

    "I hope that our Chinese friends will overcome the difficult situation with honour," he said. "We all want results of the fight against the new virus to be as efficient and quick as possible."

    Dr David Heymann, who led the World Health Organization's response to the SARS outbreak, said it was too early to tell when the virus outbreak would peak, but that it appeared the disease was still on the increase. He said the steep rise in China's caseload in recent days was partly attributable to the fact that Chinese officials expanded their search to include milder cases, not only people with pneumonia.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies