The UK Foreign Office (FO) has urged all UK residents currently abroad to come home as soon as possible, in order to avoid getting trapped overseas.
The statement from the FO comes in the wake of an address by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on 23 March, in which he announced strict new measures preventing all but necessary travel outside of the home to stem the tide of coronavirus infections across the UK.
It's estimated that up to one million Brits are currently abroad on short-term or business trips. These travellers have now been asked by the FO to cut their time short and return home immediately.
The advice has been updated due to fears that further commercial flight routes may close in the coming days without any warning, leaving UK nationals stranded abroad.
'Airlines are suspending flights and airports are closing'
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said, “We are strongly urging UK travellers overseas to return home now where and while there are still commercial routes to do so. Around the world, more airlines are suspending flights and more airports are closing, some without any notice.
“Where commercial routes don’t exist, our staff are working round the clock to give advice and support to UK nationals. If you are on holiday abroad the time to come home is now while you still can.”
The press release from the FO noted that some British tourists are already experiencing difficulties trying to return to the UK due to international travel restrictions levied as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
The UK government says it is currently working to keep routes open for a sufficient amount of time to allow these travellers to get home safely.
Coronavirus: the facts
What is coronavirus?
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.
What caused coronavirus?
The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.
How is it spread?
As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.
What are the symptoms?
The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.
What precautions can be taken?
Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.
As of Monday 23 March the prime minister has put the UK into lockdown and instructed all citizens to stay at home. People can only leave their homes to exercise once a day, go shopping for food and medication, and travel to work only if essential.Police will be able to enforce these restrictions.
All non-essential shops will close with immediate effect, as will playgrounds, places of worship and libraries. Large events or gatherings of more than two people cannot go ahead, including weddings and celebrations. Funerals can only be attended by immediate family.
Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.
The government has now instructed bars, restaurants, theatres and non-essential businesses to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis. Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.
The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.
For more information on government advice, please check their website.
Should I avoid public places?
The advice now is to avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.
What should I do if I feel unwell?
Don’t go to your GP but instead call NHS 111 or look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.
When to call NHS 111
NHS 111 should be used if you feel unwell with coronavirus symptoms, have been in a country with a high risk of coronavirus in the last 14 days or if you have been in close contact with someone with the virus.
Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS