British Airways has suspended all direct flights to and from mainland China as conerns grow over the coronavirus outbreak.
The move comes after the UK government warned against all but essential travel to the country, where 132 people have been killed by the rapidly spreading disease.
BA’s website shows no direct flights to mainland China available in January or February. The UK’s flag carrier usually operates daily flights from Heathrow Airport to Shanghai and Beijing.
“We apologise to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority,” the airline in a statement on Wednesday. “Customers due to travel to or from China in the coming days can find more information on BA.com.”
BA is to continue its two daily flights from Hong Kong, which is not covered by the government travel warning. Passengers who were due to fly from Beijing or Shanghai to Heathrow are likely to be moved to Hong Kong.
The Foreign Office travel warning was widened on Tuesday to encompass the whole of mainland China as coronavirus infections in the country surged to nearly 6,000. The government had previously only advised against travel to Hubei province, where virus originated in the city of Wuhan.
The UK is finalising plans to evacuate hundreds of Britons from the province, with a deadline for those who want to leave to contact the UK consulate passing at 3am GMT (11am local time) on Wednesday.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab said government officials were “working urgently to finalise arrangements for an assisted departure from Hubei province for British nationals this week, and are in contact with people in Hubei to ensure they register their interest and that we can keep them updated”.
It is estimated up to 200 British citizens in Wuhan and the surrounding area will be evacuated.
Baroness Morgan, the culture secretary, said BA’s decision to suspend flights to and from China would give “more impetus” to the government’s bid to arrange emergency travel.
“The Foreign Office will be working with staff on the ground to identify UK nationals,” the Conservative peer told the BBC’s Breakfast. “We will get people home as soon as we can, as soon as we can make arrangements.
“Obviously, today’s decision by British Airways provides more impetus to the government to make other plans and communicate those.”
There have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK – with 97 people tested for the disease given the all-clear – but Public Health England has warned it may have reached the country.
Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said people who return from Wuhan should “self-isolate” for 14 days – the virus’s incubation period – even if they are showing no symptoms.
Four cases of the disease have been confirmed in Germany, making it the second European nation affected, after France.
Several countries – including France, Germany, South Korea, the US, and Japan – have begun operations to evacuate citizens from the epicentre of the outbreak in China.
Major Chinese cities have been placed on lockdown in a bid to stop the spread of the virus, while in Wuhan authorities are racing to build two dedicated hospitals for victims.