Coronavirus: Passengers rush back to UK on British Airways' last flights

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Daniel Maloney and children Freddie and Isabella at Heathrow airport
Image caption,
Mr Maloney and his two children, Freddie and Isabella, have stayed indoors the past week

"I think we made the right decision," said Daniel Maloney, who flew back with his two children on British Airways' final flight out of Beijing on Wednesday.

The airline has cancelled all direct flights to and from China until Friday because of the spread of the new strain of coronavirus.

"The village we are in is in lockdown," said Mr Maloney, who lives in northern Beijing where he teaches at an international school.

"All the roads in and out are barricaded off. You can't go outside. They have shut down the malls.

"We have been inside our apartment for a week. There's only so many jigsaws we can do."

'Get kids out'

Mr Maloney, 50, said he made the decision for the family to leave China and stay with his parents, in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, after he saw the statistics of the number of people infected "stacking up".

"I wanted to get the kids out," he said, speaking from the arrivals lounge in Heathrow Airport on Wednesday afternoon.

"I got the kids out this morning with a special driver. All the motorways were empty. [There were] about 20 people at the airport."

He had been stockpiling food for just under a week, and as he left he gave all his fresh supplies to neighbours.

Asked whether he and others back in China are scared, he replied: "I think now, yes." For many Chinese people, "Sars is still in their minds", he adds.

Image caption,
Public Health England has posted coronavirus information around the airport

He said staff in Beijing carried out temperature checks before the flight and - like most of the passengers - the family wore masks, plus goggles for the children.

But on the flight. he said he did not see any checks - although were told some were carried out before landing.

"We have just come from customs. They were joking, saying they have just been given some blue gloves," he added.

The government says it has a team of health experts in Heathrow to support anyone travelling from China who feels unwell.

Mr Maloney said he has already arranged for his children Isabella, 12, and Freddie, 9, to see a doctor later this week.

'Clamping down'

Edinburgh University student James Marmol, 22, decided "last-minute" to cut short his year abroad in Beijing because of the virus.

"I wasn't actually returning from China until August," he said, also speaking at Heathrow.

"My main worry was I was going to get trapped and not be able to get out of China again, not necessarily as scared about the virus.

"Obviously my parents are, but I was not too afraid."

But he said: "Beijing is pretty scary at the moment. No cars on the street, very different to normal."

And the student accommodation where he lives has closed its doors, with staff taking temperature checks whenever people go in or out.

"It's a little bit scary but mostly because the closing down of things. It's very apparent the government is clamping down," he said.

He said masks have sold out in China - "I was hearing about people who are buying them from Japan in bulk" - but he managed to get hold of one while abroad, which he has been wearing.

Image caption,
Mr Hao said his parents are worried and want him to stay away from the virus

Among the masked passengers walking into the arrivals lounge at Heathrow was Joel Hao, 21, a first year business student at Swansea University.

Mr Hao, from the city of Tangshan, said he was in China celebrating Chinese New Year with his family, but changed his flight to come back early.

"I'm quite happy because I changed my flight, but for those who didn't it's too unfortunate," he said.

Salesman Gil Qiao, 40, from Oxford, also changed his flight to come home nearly two weeks early, after the strict travel restrictions in China meant he could not do business - selling laboratory instruments.

"I will keep myself away from family for at least a week," said Mr Qiao.

Media caption,

Jeff Siddle's wife will have to stay behind in Wuhan when he leaves with their daughter

He said that, before flying, staff "checked the temperature and [made] us write down all the detailed information; if you had been to Wuhan, if you had contact with anyone with infection, if you knew anyone who had been quarantined.

"I don't remember I was given any information on the plane. Before landing I was told someone would check. We sat there for about five minutes where we were told to [stay seated]."

More than 130 people have died from coronavirus in China and close to 6,000 have been infected.

The virus has spread across China and to at least 16 countries globally, including Thailand, France, the US and Australia.

On Thursday, hundreds of British citizens are being flown back to the UK from Wuhan - where the outbreak began - and will be put in quarantine.