I spoke to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on 28 January about the evacuation of UK nationals from Wuhan and also about UK medical supplies to help the Chinese authorities tackle the coronavirus.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for his reply, but does he agree that the safety and security of British nationals must be our primary concern, and will he therefore press the Chinese authorities to co-operate in granting any assistance necessary to ensure that our nationals are looked after while they remain in China?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and those are precisely the issues that I raised with the Chinese Foreign Minister. In fairness, we have seen 83 British nationals repatriated on Friday, and another seven British nationals and four dependants evacuated on a French flight that returned to the UK on Sunday. I can also tell him that we have been allocated 14 places on an Air New Zealand flight today for UK nationals and their dependants.
The evacuation of British nationals and their families from Wuhan has been nothing short of a shambles, given the delays, the lack of information and the terrible cases of family separation that have occurred. Why on earth does the Foreign Office not have protocols and plans in place to manage these crises when they occur?
The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong on everything that he has just said. I visited the crisis centre yesterday. We have an excellent cross-Whitehall team, including the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Health and Social Care working with our consular officers. There are challenges dealing with the Chinese authorities in relation to the permissions to get the charter flight in and to get people to the muster points. We hired four coaches for the first flight that arrived on Friday, and we delayed the flight for three hours on the tarmac to ensure that all the people who needed to get on could get on, and of course we will continue working with our international partners and the Chinese to get those who need to come home out of the country.