Coronavirus: What are the options if you want to leave China?

Simon Calder
The US has introduced travel restrictions in an effort to restrict the spread of the coronavirus: Reuters

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Foreign Office is now warning: “If you’re in China and able to leave, you should do so. The elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions may be at heightened risk”.

British citizens have plenty of options for leaving the People’s Republic of China.

These are the key questions and answers.

Why has the Foreign Office said this now?

The main concern appears to be a dwindling number of options for travellers wishing to leave China – and the risk that more cities and provinces could be closed down if the Wuhan Coronavirus spreads.

British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have both suspended their flights to China.

The FCO warns: “It may become harder to access departure options over the coming weeks.”

The advice does not apply to Hong Kong or Macau.

Is anyone still flying between China and the UK?

Yes. The three main airlines from the People’s Republic are still operating daily to and from the UK.

Air China has an Airbus A330 link from Beijing to Heathrow, and a larger A350 from Shanghai to Gatwick. China Eastern maintains its Boeing 777 flights between Shanghai and Heathrow, and China Southern operates Boeing 787s from Guangzhou to Heathrow.

Airlines from other countries are also still operating flights from China.

Won’t the new Foreign Office warning put extra pressure on these flights, with not enough seats to go around?

While the FCO advice may cause a temporary surge in demand, particularly among businesses employing UK expatriates in China, there should be enough capacity.

“Normal” traffic, comprising business travellers and tourists, has almost dried up, meaning seats are readily available.

There is no sign of profiteering – on the contrary, carriers seem grateful to get passengers at almost any price.

Connecting flights are readily available too - just make sure you check the travel requirements for the transiting country before you go.

Is escaping via Hong Kong a good idea?

For travellers in southern China, it would be worth considering, except that the Hong Kong authorities have just closed all border crossings with mainland China with the exception of the Shenzhen Bay checkpoint and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge. That means pressure on these crossings will be intense, and long delays are possible.

What about flights to destinations other than London?

Although the Gulf carriers have cut back their routes, some flights are still operating. Emirates will get you from Beijing to Manchester for around £400 tomorrow.

From Qingdao to Edinburgh it is a more complicated journey, with no cheap one-stop options.

What happens to people who ignore the Foreign Office warning?

The advice has no legal effect. However, to stay in a country against an FCO warning is likely to invalidate your travel insurance.

Is the China crisis affecting fares on other routes?

In theory it should be, because vast amounts of capacity have been taken out of the market. Travellers’ unwillingness to travel via Asian hubs may increase demand for links between the UK and Australasia via North America.

But there is not much evidence of significant effects so far.

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