Britain on Saturday said it was temporarily withdrawing some staff and their families from its diplomatic sites in China, as Beijing struggles to contain the nationwide new coronavirus epidemic.
The decision, which follows a similar move by the United States this week, came as the death toll from the outbreak soared to 259 and the total number of cases neared 12,000 within China.
The SARS-like virus has also begun to spread around the world, with more than 100 infections reported in more than 20 countries.
“We are committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our staff and their families,” a spokesman for the British Foreign Office said.
“We are therefore temporarily withdrawing some UK staff, and their dependents from our embassy and consulates in China.” He added that Britain’s ambassador in Beijing and staff needed to continue critical work will remain, and that British nationals in China would still have access to constant consular assistance.
The United States, which on Friday temporarily banned the entry of foreign nationals who had travelled to China over the past two weeks, has also made similar changes.
On Wednesday, it authorised the departure of non-emergency government employees and their family members from its offices in Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Shenyang. And on Friday, it ordered all relatives of staff members under the age of 21 to leave China immediately.
A spokesman for the US Embassy in Beijing said it made the decision “out of an abundance of caution related to logistical disruptions stemming from restricted transportation and overwhelmed hospitals related to the novel coronavirus”.
British health officials on Friday confirmed the first cases in the UK, after two members of the same family tested positive for the virus.
One of the two individuals is a student at the University of York, a university spokesman said Saturday.
AFP understands that both had travelled to China recently. Also on Friday, 83 British citizens returned on a UK government-chartered flight from Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the epidemic.
They were immediately taken to a hospital in northwest England for a two-week quarantine.Get access to India’s fastest growing financial subscriptions service Moneycontrol Pro for as little as Rs 599 for first year. Use the code “GETPRO”. Moneycontrol Pro offers you all the information you need for wealth creation including actionable investment ideas, independent research and insights & analysis For more information, check out the Moneycontrol website or mobile app.