British Airways on Wednesday said that it had suspended all flights to and from mainland China amid increasing fears about the spread of coronavirus.
“We apologise to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority,” British Airways said.
The move comes after the Foreign Office warned late on Tuesday that Britons should avoid all but essential travel to the country. US authorities have also issued similar guidance.
There have now been more than 5,700 cases of the virus in China, while the death toll has climbed to 132.
British Airways operates daily flights to both Beijing and Shanghai from the UK. Flights to these cities have been suspended until March, a spokesperson said.
Shares in IAG (IAG.L), the owner of British Airways, were up by more than 0.5% on Wednesday morning, having fallen sharply earlier in the week.
Separately, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific said it would reduce flights to mainland China by half after Carrie Lam, the territory’s chief executive, said airlines should curb operations in order to slow the spread of the virus.
Other airlines, such as US-owned United Airlines, said it would reduce flights to China following “a significant decline in demand for travel.”
Speaking on Wednesday, culture secretary Nicky Morgan said that the British Airways decision would give “more impetus” to plans by the UK government to offer assistance to Britons who need to get home.
“The Foreign Office will be working with staff on the ground to identify UK nationals,” Morgan said on BBC Breakfast.
“We will get people home as soon as we can, as soon as we can make arrangements.”
Morgan said that the UK health system was “well prepared.”
“We are not aware of any confirmed cases of the virus here in the UK but we do have the expertise to look after people, to treat and to test should that become necessary.”