The government has warned UK residents against travelling to mainland China as fears over the fatal coronavirus continue to grow.
On Tuesday, the Foreign Office updated its travel advice to urge against all but essential travel to the mainland, in a bid top stop the fatal virus from spreading.
More than 100 people have died from the new strain of the virus, which broke out in the central city of Wuhan after people picked it up from a fresh food market.
The update came as Britons in the province of Hubei said they were told they could be flown home as early as Thursday.
Those stuck in the city and surrounding areas have been urged to contact the British consulate before 11am on Wednesday if they wish to fly home.
The British embassy in Beijing has said transport to get UK citizens out ‘may happen quickly and with short notice’.
Meanwhile, foreign travel advice for China on the gov.uk website has been updated to say: ‘The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Hubei Province due to the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak.
‘If you’re in this area and able to leave, you should do so. The FCO advise against all but essential travel to the rest of mainland China (not including Hong Kong and Macao).
‘The Chinese government continue to impose further restrictions on movement within China in response to the coronavirus outbreak.
‘It may become harder over the coming weeks for those who wish to leave China to do so.
‘If you feel that you may want to leave China soon, you should consider making plans to do so before any further restrictions may be imposed.’
China has imposed travel restrictions between its major cities, while the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has suspended all tour group companies’ activities to stop the virus from spreading further.
But a British teacher living in Wuhan – the epicentre of the outbreak – said British officials had told her she could return to the UK but her husband – a Chinese national – can’t, despite having a UK visa.
It is understood that this was a result of restrictions imposed by China, rather than the UK.
The teacher, who asked not to be named, has decided to take her chances and stay with her husband in China.
She said: ‘It’s what we were expecting to be honest, as we’d heard that it was like that for the American flight out. We had hoped it would be different, but oh well.
‘If the situation stays as it is, or improves, then we’re fine. We just hope it won’t get any more serious.’
She added that other Britons she was in contact with had arranged to go home, with some scheduled on a flight at 7am on Thursday.
Officials estimate up to 200 citizens in China will want to return to the UK and the government is ‘working on’ how to do so.
Earlier, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told BBC Breakfast: ‘For anybody who is there, one of the issues we have, working with our partners internationally on this, is actually identifying how many British citizens there are in Wuhan.
‘One of the things we’re asking people to do is to contact the consulate there to make them aware. People have started to do that.’
The news comes as almost 97 people in the UK have tested negative for coronavirus, although scientists predict it may have entered the country.
On Monday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock called for people who have returned from Wuhan to ‘self-isolate’ even if they have no symptoms.
He said officials could not be 100 per cent certain the virus is not spread by people who are not displaying symptoms.