A British man trapped in Wuhan has today told of his heartbreak of having to leave his Chinese wife behind in the deserted city – because Beijing won’t allow her on tomorrow’s British evacuation flight.
Jeff Siddle, his wife Sindy and their nine-year-old daughter Jasmine chose to fly to the Hubei province – which has been crippled by the coronavirus epidemic – to spend time with his partner’s family and celebrate the Chinese New Year.
But in a cruel twist of events, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has revealed Sindy – who has had a visa for permanent residency in the UK since 2008 – will not be allowed to board a plane evacuating British nationals from Wuhan, set to fly tomorrow.
It comes after stranded expats being evacuated from Wuhan tomorrow were told there will be no quarantine when they return to the UK and they will need to make their own way home – sparking fears coronavirus could spread on home soil.
Expats who have secured a spot on Thursday’s rescue flight were warned the Government will not provide any transport for when they land in London – despite the highly contagious virus poised to claim its first British victim.
Some 132 people have now died across China and more than 6,000 around the world have caught the highly infectious pneumonia-like infection, with cases having risen dramatically in the past week.
Jeff Siddle, his wife Sindy and their nine-year-old daughter Jasmine will be torn apart because Beijing won’t allow his Chinese wife on tomorrow’s British evacuation flight
The killer coronavirus outbreak has now killed 132 people and struck down more than 6,000. Cases have been spotted in Canada, US, France and Australia
A pilot wearing a protective suit parks a cargo plane at Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei Province
Talking to BBC Radio 4 Today’s programme from Wuhan, Mr Siddle said: ‘My wife’s a Chinese citizen, although she’s got a permanent residency visa for the UK as a spouse (in 2008).
‘But what the foreign office is saying is they are going to be doing an airlift, possibly tomorrow, but it’s only [for] British citizens. Chinese authorities are not allowing any Chinese residents to leave.
‘I was put in the position to make a decision to either leave my wife here in China, or the three of us stay here (in Wuhan).’
Mr Siddle, 54, from Prudhoe in Northumberland, added: ‘We have to basically have a nine-year-old child separated from their mother. Who knows how long that is going to be for?
‘The way things are going that could be a prolonged period before my Sindy could leave China. My daughter’s obviously been in flood of tears. She’s absolutely devastated.’
The IT software developer added that Sindy was trying to ‘keep strong’ but has been left ‘absolutely distraught’ at Chinese authorities tearing their family apart. He added: ‘It was an awful decision.’
Mr Siddle told the Guardian there were no health warnings in place when they flew out on January 15. He told the newspaper: ‘My head is spinning. It’s just horrendous.
‘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?’
British PE teacher Kharn Lambert – who is stuck in Wuhan with his visiting 81-year-old grandmother Veronica Theobald and last week begged the Foreign Office to ‘come and get them’ – revealed he has been in contact with the British embassy in Beijing for the first time
Mr Lambert, 31, told Sky News this morning the Foreign Office had given him assurances the evacuation will take place tomorrow, but there was no set time yet
Mr Siddle told the BBC that the Foreign Office has said they have to make their own way to Wuhan Tianhe International Airport, where the US and Japan have flown residents out of the city from.
But he added that he is a three-hour drive away from the airport, warning that all the roads are on lockdown.
Mr Siddle said: ‘We’ve called the local Chinese office to get some details but they’re saying the only way we can get a car through is if we have a special diplomatic note, so I’ve phoned the Foreign Office and asked for that but they said they can’t do it. So that’s put another stress on top of everything.’
A paramedic head-to-toe in protective gear directs Drew Bennett, 39, into an ambulance on a residential street in Harborne, Birmingham
Two other paramedics wearing no protective clothing appear in the video – one appears from behind the ambulance doors (left) and another stands beside the hazmat-clad woman (right)
WHICH COUNTRIES HAVE ALREADY EVACUATED THEIR RESIDENTS FROM WUHAN?
The US launched an emergency mission to repatriate 240 citizens yesterday, with a flight out of Wuhan Tianhe International Airport.
On board the flight, which left before dawn local time, was diplomats from the US Consulate as well as other American citizens. One British dual national also boarded the flight. It is unclear whether any medics were on board to monitor passengers for signs of infection.
It made a refueling stop in Alaska and was due to fly on to Ontario, California – but it has since been diverted to March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California, where it is expected to land in the next few hours.
Passengers were screened before initially boarding in Wuhan, and then went through follow-up checks at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Alaska. The will be screened again once they arrive in California. It is thought they will be quarantined for at least 72 hours.
The Chinese partners of US citizens were banned from the rescue flight, reportedly at the demand of Beijing.
Japanese officials also chartered a flight from Wuhan Tianhe International Airport to rescue 206 citizens stuck in the coronavirus-hit city.
The plane landed back at Haneda Airport in Tokyo this morning at around 9am local time after flying to Wuhan overnight.
The flight was carrying emergency relief supplies including 15,000 masks, 50,000 pairs of gloves and 8,000 protective glasses for medics in Wuhan. Around four medical officials were also on board to monitor returning passengers.
Officials confirmed passengers would be tested for the coronavirus strain. Japan Times the evacuees would be asked to remain at home and isolate themselves to prevent the potential spread.
France’s health minister Agnes Buzyn confirmed a plane will be sent for its stranded citizens on Thursday, to return home on Friday or Saturday. No further details have been given.
There are some 800 French citizens stranded in the Wuhan area. She said French nationals will be held in quarantine for two weeks on arrival to stop the virus spreading on home soil.
The European Union meanwhile said it would co-fund an airlift effort at France’s request, so that more than 100 nationals from other EU nations could be repatriated along with French citizens.
Australia is planning to evacuate its citizens from the epicentre of the deadly virus outbreak in China and quarantine them on an island used to detain asylum seekers.
No confirmed details have been given, with officials still thrashing out details with Chinese officials. But it is thought Australia will work with New Zealand on the operation and would seek to help Pacific nations evacuate their citizens where possible.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said they would be held in quarantine for 14 days on Christmas Island, known for its notorious immigration detention centre used to detain asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat.
Morrison said ‘vulnerable’ Australians – including children and the elderly – and short-term visitors to Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province would be prioritised in extraction efforts.
WHO ELSE IS PLANNING ON EVACUATING RESIDENTS FROM WUHAN?
India Local media reported the Indian government will request clearance from Beijing to take more than 250 citizens out of Wuhan and that a Boeing 747 in Mumbai is on standby.
Indonesia Jakarta said there are more than 230 Indonesians in China – roughly 100 in Wuhan and the rest in Hubei province. The foreign ministry said yesterday it has yet to decide on an evacuation plan.
Malaysia Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said this morning that Kuala Lumpur was keen to send a plane to Wuhan to evacuate some 78 Malaysians stranded in the city.
Philippines The foreign ministry said today it would evacuate citizens in Hubei on a chartered flight, and asked nationals in the area to contact the Shanghai consulate.
Sri Lanka Colombo said yesterday there were roughly 860 Sri Lankan students in China. The foreign ministry said it is awaiting a response from the Chinese authorities to operate a Sri Lankan airlines charter flight to Wuhan to evacuate some 32 Sri Lankan students and their relatives.
South Korea Seoul will send chartered planes to Wuhan this week, the foreign ministry said, to return hundreds of its citizens to South Korea on Thursday and Friday.
Thailand Thailand’s premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha said yesterday the country was waiting for authorisation from Chinese officials before evacuating people, but that aircraft and doctors were on standby.
Germany Berlin has not confirmed any evacuation plan but said it is considering options for roughly 90 citizens reportedly in Wuhan.
Spain Spanish officials are working with China and the European Union to take Spanish nationals out of the area, the foreign minister said.
Algeria President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has asked the government to take all measures needed to bring home 36 Algerians, most of them students, living in Wuhan, according to state agency APS.
Morocco About 100 people, mostly students in Wuhan, will be evacuated, according to local media.
Mrs Siddle will be left behind in the vius-hit city despite having owned a visa for permanent residency in the UK since 2008.
It comes after stranded expats being evacuated from Wuhan tomorrow were told there will be no quarantine when they return to the UK and they will need to make their own way home.
Expats who have secured a spot on Thursday’s rescue flight were warned the Government will not provide any transport for when they land in London – despite fears the highly contagious virus is poised to claim its first British victim.
They have been told to go home and stay indoors alone for two weeks to effectively ‘self-quarantine’ and prevent transmission – despite health bosses warning anyone suspected to have the virus must be ‘locked in a room immediately’ and ‘not allowed to touch anything or anyone’.
British PE teacher Kharn Lambert – who is stuck in Wuhan with his visiting 81-year-old grandmother Veronica Theobald – revealed the British embassy in Beijing has been in contact with them for the first time today.
Mr Lambert, 31, said he had had been given assurances the evacuation will take place tomorrow, but there was no set time yet and the Foreign Office has said they need to make their own way home.
He told Sky News: ‘Well this morning I was on the phone to the embassy and they’ve basically told us via a script they were given by the Foreign Office that the flight will be leaving tomorrow, they’re not sure what time.
‘It will be arriving at a London airport and once we arrive there that basically the Government will not provide any transport whatsoever and we have to find our own way back to our hometowns and then self-isolate for 14 days, which is absolutely ludicrous.’
‘It’s [coronavirus] got a 14-day incubation period. Now, we’ve been inside for almost 14 days, we’re going outside tomorrow and potentially coming into contact with someone that might have the virus, which would then mean we could potentially catch it and then without showing any symptoms could then spread disease around the UK as we travel from the airport to wherever we live in the UK.’
‘At the moment, the information we’ve been given is we have to make our own way to the airport. But we have been given no information as to who we are flying with or what the aircraft tag will be. So we’re just waiting on that info.’
He was told the rescue flight will land at a London airport but no transport will be provided and passengers will have to make their own way home – sparking fears the British government is not taking the risk of the disease spreading in the UK seriously.
Mr Lambert, from Lancaster, said expats were furiously messaging over social media about the government’s mishandling of the crisis, adding: ‘The Australian Government are isolating and quarantining on Christmas Island. They seem to be being proactive, whereas our Government seem to be just dithering and letting us do what we want really.’
Hundreds of British expats stuck in the deserted city of Wuhan – the outbreak’s epicentre – are expected to begin flying home tomorrow in a landmark evacuation mission organised by the British Government, which had been accused of dragging its feet in the delay of rescuing residents from a ‘death sentence’.
But ministers have not officially confirmed the repatriation and British nationals stranded in the region claim they have not been given a set time or concrete plan.
The British government has come under increasing pressure to ramp up its rescue efforts after the US launched an emergency mission to repatriate 240 citizens yesterday and 206 Japanese citizens stuck in Wuhan landed back in Tokyo this morning.
The French government has confirmed a plane will be sent to Wuhan on Thursday and Australia said a plane will be sent for its citizens by the end of the week.
Meanwhile, a British coronavirus patient who had returned from Wuhan was loaded into an ambulance by a hazmat-clad paramedic yesterday – hours after being sent home by his GP.
Drew Bennett, 39, was feared to have contracted the potentially deadly virus during a recent holiday to the Chinese city at the heart of the outbreak and is currently in isolation at a Birmingham hospital.
The sales worker returned from Wuhan on New Years’ Eve and quickly developed flu-like symptoms before becoming too unwell to leave his bed.
But he revealed that when he visited his GP on Monday he was told to go home – despite fears the highly contagious virus is poised to claim its first British victim.
The advice given by his doctor contradicted health bosses’ warning that suspected coronavirus patients must be ‘locked in a room alone straight away’.
Guidance issued to GPs by Public Health England last week ordered them to put patients in a separate room, close the door and ‘don’t let them touch anything or anyone’.
At 4.20pm on Monday an ambulance carrying medics in hazmat suits was sent to Mr Bennett’s address in Harborne, Birmingham. He was rushed to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to have blood tests, where he remains in isolation awaiting results.
Video captured by a neighbour showed one medic wearing a white hazmat suit, blue apron, gloves and a mask with a visor, escorting him into the ambulance.
But two West Midlands Ambulance Service crew could be seen without any protective clothing or masks – sparking fears British authorities are failing to take the threat of spreading the killer disease seriously.
The latest video comes despite Health Secretary Matt Hancock just yesterday warning around 2,000 Britons who are thought to have returned from Wuhan since the start of the outbreak to ‘self-isolate, stay indoors and avoid contact with other people’ in a significant ramping up of precautions.
Meanwhile in China, health workers have been hosing down streets, shops and public transport with disinfectant spray to try curb the spiralling epidemic.
Coronavirus has been deemed highly contagious and can spread via a simple cough or sneeze. It has killed more than 130 people in under a month.
West Midlands Ambulance Service has refused to answer any questions about why some staff were not wearing protective clothing while collecting Mr Bennett. A spokesman for the trust repeatedly told this website: ‘We can’t say a thing about the case.’