/Our worst nightmare: UK family to be split up in coronavirus evacuations

Our worst nightmare: UK family to be split up in coronavirus evacuations

A British family trapped in the centre of the coronavirus outbreak are facing their “worst nightmare” after being told wife and mother Sindy Siddle will not be allowed on the plane evacuating them from the country.

Siddle travelled to Hubei province with her husband, Jeff, and nine-year-old daughter, Jasmine, to spend Chinese new year with her family in the village of Hongtu.

The UK Foreign Office (FCO) has told her that since she has a Chinese passport, she will not be allowed to board the plane evacuating British nationals in the next few days. A 42-year-old accounts assistant, she has had a visa for permanent residency in the UK since 2008.

“My head is spinning. It’s just horrendous,” said Jeff Siddle, 54, an IT software developer. “This ordeal just turned into our worst nightmare … How can they put a family in this position? Having to leave Sindy in China would be the worst thing that anyone could be put through. How am I going to tell Jasmine that her mum has to stay behind?”

Sindy Siddle said she was devastated when she found out: “This is a very difficult time for us because my daughter is just nine years old and I don’t want to put her at risk staying here for a long time. But anything that can help my daughter get away we will try, so we made a decision that Jeff and Jasmine will go.

“I want to be with my family and look after them, especially my daughter, because I don’t know how to tell my daughter, you have to go without mum.”

Sindy Siddle travelled to Hubei province to spend Chinese new year with her family in the village of Hongtu



Sindy Siddle travelled to Hubei province to spend Chinese new year with her family in the village of Hongtu. Photograph: Supplied

The family, from Prudhoe, Northumberland, said there were no health warnings in place when they flew out on 15 January, but they have since become caught up in an outbreak which has claimed more than a hundred lives.

“There was no indication that there was any danger. It’s all just escalated since we arrived,” said Jeff.

The Siddles’ situation was echoed by another family. Natalie Francis, a 31-year-old kindergarten teacher from York, said she had been told her three-year-old son, who has a Chinese passport, would not qualify for evacuation.

The boy has British residency rights under the 1981 Nationality Act, but Francis said: “I finally got a phone call at 10am this morning from some man [at the Foreign Office] in London, who then went on to say that I qualify for evacuation, but they cannot take my son. And I said, ‘There’s like nothing you can do? I mean, I literally have a letter from you guys saying he is a British citizen.’

“They said anyone with Chinese nationality or other citizenship is not being allowed to go on. And then he went on to ask if I still want to go, and I’m like, ‘So yeah, you want me to just abandon my son in China, and go home?’

“He was probably just trying to do his job but it’s a ridiculous question.”

The Siddles are trapped in the village of Hongtu near Jingmen city, a three-hour drive from Wuhan, with no communication over the last few days from the British authorities in Wuhan and Beijing, which Jeff Siddle said had been closed for the Chinese new year. Other British citizens in Wuhan have expressed frustration over the lack of clarity from the UK government.

“There hasn’t been a lot of help from the UK side at all,” he said. “The roads from our village are not allowing cars through, so we effectively can’t leave the village. We haven’t left the village for about four days now.”

The family finally received confirmation that a flight would be available for British nationals to leave the country in the next few days, but still face the task of making their way to Wuhan airport, 150 miles away, when most roads are closed.

The FCO said it would make a note on its file that Sindy is the mother of a British child, but could make no guarantees about her evacuation.

What is the virus causing illness in Wuhan?

It is a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals, or possibly seafood. New and troubling viruses usually originate in animal hosts. Ebola and flu are examples.

What other coronaviruses have there been?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals.

What are the symptoms of the Wuhan coronavirus?

The virus causes pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. If people are admitted to hospital, they may get support for their lungs and other organs as well as fluids. Recovery will depend on the strength of their immune system. Many of those who have died are known to have been already in poor health.

Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?

Human to human transmission has been confirmed by China’s national health commission. As of 27 January, the Chinese authorities had acknowledged more than 2,700 cases and 56 deaths. In the past week, the number of confirmed infections has more than tripled and cases have been found in 13 provinces, as well as the municipalities of Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing and Tianjin. The virus has also been confirmed outside China, in Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the US, and Vietnam. There have not been any confirmed cases in the UK at present, with the more than 70 people tested for the virus all proving negative. The actual number to have contracted the virus could be far higher as people with mild symptoms may not have been detected. Modelling by WHO experts at Imperial College London suggests there could be as many as 100,000 cases, with uncertainty putting the margins between 30,000 and 200,000.

How worried are the experts?

There were fears that the coronavirus might spread more widely during the week-long lunar new year holidays, which start on 24 January, when millions of Chinese travel home to celebrate, but the festivities have largely been cancelled and Wuhan and other Chinese cities are in lockdown.

At what point should you go to the doctor if you have a cough, say?

Unless you have recently travelled to China or been in contact with someone infected with the virus, then you should treat any cough or cold symptoms as normal. The NHS advises that there is generally no need to visit a doctor for a cough unless it is persistent or you are having other symptoms such as chest pain, difficulty breathing or you feel very unwell.

Should we panic?

No. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. It increases the likelihood that the World Health Organization will declare the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern on Thursday evening. The key concerns are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital.

Sarah Boseley Health editor and Hannah Devlin 

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Foreign Office is urgently exploring options for British nationals to leave Hubei province. Details are being finalised, and the FCO will confirm these as soon as they can.”

The FCO advised Britons in Hubei to ring one of two dedicated 24-hour telephone numbers before 11am on Wednesday to register their desire to be evacuated.

The family are determined to campaign to get the FCO decision overturned so that Sindy will be allowed to leave. In the meantime, they do not know when they will be reunited again.

Original Source