A man on the evacuation flight from the coronavirus epicentre has said he is “very relieved” to be back in the UK after battling locked-down roads to get to Wuhan airport with just 90 minutes’ notice.
James Convey also said it was touch and go whether his Chinese wife, who lives and pays taxes in the UK, would be allowed on the flight which landed at RAF Brize Norton at 1.30pm.
The 83 Britons were transferred to seven coaches to take them to Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral, Merseyside, where a special facility has been set up for them to be quarantined for 14 days.
It comes as the first two cases of the virus were confirmed in the UK.
Speaking from one of the coaches, Mr Convey, from Staffordshire, told Sky News: “It was quite a positive atmosphere on the plane, everybody was relieved to get out of China.
“There were a lot of obstacles to get over to get on that plane, we got over those obstacles with the help of the Chinese and UK authorities.
“We’re all very relieved to get back to the UK.”
He and his wife were in Wuhan to celebrate Chinese New Year with his mother-in-law but have been stuck inside her apartment for days, too nervous to leave as there were people who died from coronavirus nearby.
It was a long journey from when the British government said it was going to evacuate its nationals to when the flight actually left.
In the end, they were only given 90 minutes’ notice to get to the airport and did not know if Mrs Convey would be allowed on the flight until they got there.
“All the roads were closed and transport was shut down but my mother-in-law pulled some strings to get us to the airport and amazingly we did get there in time.
“There’s probably a lot of people who didn’t get there in time and possibly missed the flight.
“There was initially a difficulty with my wife being repatriated to the UK but we got over that right at the last minute.
“This was all unfolding in the car on the way to the airport. We decided to gamble, put her in the car and got on the phone to the Foreign Office.
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“There was a risk it wouldn’t be sorted on the Chinese end but it came through just about in time.
“It was a bit frantic, there were a few false starts where we thought the flight was going to go, we were organising transport to the airport and it was called off.
“It’s a long process but I think that is preferable to staying in Wuhan at the moment.
“I probably speak for most people here when I say I’m just glad to be back.”
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All passengers went through screening at Wuhan airport and were accompanied by medical professionals on the plane, Mr Convey added.
He said there was an isolation section at the front of the plane but did not see anybody being taken in there.
“We didn’t have loads of interaction with other passengers onboard, it was a fairly normal flight,” he said.
“People just doing what they normally do on flights, sitting around watching movies.”