Health officials said Friday two people had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, in Britain’s first cases since the deadly outbreak emerged in China and spread globally.
The announcement came as 83 British citizens flew back on a chartered flight from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the epidemic which has so far killed 213 people.
With a growing number of cases reported in at least 19 other countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday declared an international public health emergency.
Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, insisted the country was “extremely well-prepared” and that officials were working with the WHO and others “to ensure we are ready for all eventualities”.
“We can confirm that two patients in England, who are members of the same family, have tested positive for coronavirus,” he said in a statement.
Whitty added the patients were receiving specialist care, including “tried and tested infection control procedures to prevent further spread of the virus”.
“We have been preparing for UK cases of novel coronavirus and we have robust infection control measures in place,” he added, noting officials were working to identify any contacts the two patients had.
AFP understands the pair had travelled to China recently. UK health officials declined to reveal the location, citing patient confidentiality.
But the domestic Press Association news agency reported they were being treated at a hospital in Newcastle, northeast England.
China’s National Health Commission revealed Friday that nearly 10,000 people there have been infected by the novel coronavirus.
Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, has been subject to an unprecedented lockdown, preventing residents from leaving in a bid to stop further spread.
Thousands of foreigners were among the millions of people confined in the metropolis, and numerous countries have begun airlifting their nationals out.
A plane chartered by Britain to evacuate its citizens and other nationals departed the city on Friday with 110 people aboard — 83 Britons and 27 others.
“We will work with our international partners on further assistance for those who remain,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
Returning Britons will be isolated for 14 days at a medical facility in northwest England once they arrive at an air force base in central England on Friday afternoon.
The two-week quarantine period will be at Arrowe Park Hospital, in accommodation usually used by health service staff.
Anyone with suspicious symptoms will be taken to the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen Hospital, which has a high-level infectious diseases unit.
“It’s welcome news that our evacuation flight has now left Wuhan,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
“We know how distressing the situation has been for those waiting to leave. We have been working round the clock to clear the way for a safe departure.”