A British father has described how a holiday to China has turned into his family’s “worst nightmare” as he was faced with deciding whether to take his daughter home to Britain or leave her with her mother in China during the coronavirus outbreak.
Jeff Siddle, 54, from Northumberland in the UK travelled with his Chinese wife Sindy, 42, and their nine-year-old daughter Jasmine to celebrate Chinese New Year in the Hubei province, which is home to Wuhan and has been the epicentre of the disease.
However the family’s flight back to the UK was cancelled and they have been trapped in the province due to measures to stop the spread.
The virus has already killed 132 people in China and been detected in 16 other countries.
Now, with the British government taking the rare step of repatriating 200 citizens on a charter flight, the family faced the devastating choice of whether to stay in China together and risk infection or separate and return to the UK.
“This ordeal just turned into our worst nightmare,” Jeff wrote on Facebook about his plight.
“I talked to foreign office in London just now and there is a flight being organised out of Wuhan airport in the next couple of days.
“But it is only British nationals who being allowed to leave. So myself and our 9 year old daughter can leave because we are British citizens. But my wife is a Chinese passport holder so she is not allowed on the flight.”
“We have to make the decision that either we all stay in Hubei or we have to go without Sindy.”
He said the family had requested an exemption because Sindy is the mother of a young child but had received no guarantees.
“How can they put a family in this position – having to leave Sindy in China would be the worst thing that anyone could be put through,” he said.
“How am I going to tell Jasmine that her mum has to stay behind.”
Mr Siddle also said his daughter was in “floods of tears because she’s going to be split up from her mum.”
“It’s a horrendous decision that I had to make to say ‘do we all just stay here or do myself and my daughter leave and leave my wife?’ he told the BBC.
He said the family were forced to choose within hours and decided he would leave for the UK with Jasmine, leaving Sindy behind.
When asked about his wife’s condition, he said “she’s absolutely devastated. She’s been in tears, she’s distraught she can’t be with her daughter. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.”
The British Foreign Office has advised against all but essential travel to China and British Airways has suspended all direct flights.
Australia, Japan, the US and EU nations are also repatriating citizens. Australians caught up in the virus outbreak will be sent to Christmas Island under quarantine for at least 14 days in a plan announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday.
Australian health officials have also warned all those who have returned from Hubei province to self isolate for two weeks.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said isolation should also occur if a person had been in contact with another person who had coronavirus even if they were not showing signs at the time of contact.