British Airways has suspended all flights to and from mainland China with immediate effect after the Foreign Office warned against “all but essential travel” to the country because of the coronavirus.
In a statement, the airline apologised for the inconvenience but said “the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority”.
It added: “Customers due to travel to or from China in the coming days can find more information on ba.com.”
BA operates daily flights to Shanghai and Beijing from Heathrow.
Virgin Atlantic said its flights between Heathrow and Shanghai will continue to operate as scheduled, although passengers are able to rebook or obtain a refund free of charge.
Urgent plans to bring Britons back from the coronavirus-hit Chinese province of Hubei are being finalised by the government.
The deadline for those stuck in the city of Wuhan and surrounding areas to contact the British consulate expressing their wish to leave passed at 3am UK time (11am local time).
Culture Secretary Baroness Morgan said BA’s decision to suspend all flights to China would give “more impetus” to the Government’s bid to arrange for Britons to travel home.
“The Foreign Office will be working with staff on the ground to identify UK nationals,” the Conservative peer told BBC Breakfast.
Flights taking Britons back home could begin as early as Thursday, according to a British teacher in Wuhan city who said UK citizens were being given details of forthcoming flights.
The death toll in China has risen to 170, with confirmed infections surging to nearly 8,000.
Four cases have been confirmed in Germany, making it the second European country to report cases, after France.
The United Arab Emirates has also confirmed its first cases of the virus in a family who recently returned to the UAE from Wuhan.
The Department of Health and Social Care said 97 people in the UK have been given the all-clear for the virus, although scientists predict it may have entered the country.