‘It’s a nightmare’: York mum told she can leave virus-hit Wuhan – but her 3-year-old son must stay

Natalie Francis with her son
29 Jan 2020 @ 2.14 pm
| News

A York mum stranded in the city at the centre of the coronavirus outbreak has been told she can come home – but must leave her child behind.

Natalie Francis is in Wuhan in China, in lockdown until at least 2 February in an attempt to control the spread of the deadly infection.

The UK Foreign Office is working to evacuate UK nationals. Officials say they can bring Natalie back to York – but not her three-year-old son Jamie, who has a Chinese passport.


The 31-year-old, who was teaching English in Wuhan, says she is “losing it”, adding: “It’s a nightmare.”

She says thousands of people are infected – and there have been 806 deaths in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital. And she is worried about Jamie as he suffered from pneumonia last year.

‘Nothing can be done’

An empty street in Wuhan, China. Photograph: PA Wire
In the early hours today UK time (Wednesday), Natalie recieved a call from the Foreign Office in London to say “I can go with no problem.

“My son however can’t go as they say ‘nothing can be done’.”

She says her boy has British residency rights under the 1981 Nationality Act, but had previously been told that he wouldn’t be issued with a British visa as it would ‘impact his human rights’.

Natalie wrote on Facebook:

  • How about his human right to get out of this city?

    He suffered from pneumonia last year and the only advice they can give is for me to leave him behind? Once again, thank you for nothing FO and Beijing embassy.

She told Minster FM that she’d been asked if she wanted to leave without her son.

“I was in disbelief that they’d even asked ‘do you want to go?’ It just seems baffling to me.”

And she felt Jamie was particularly susceptible to the virus because of being ill with pneumonia last year.

“Right from the very beginning we were told that this virus is more serious for those who have underlying conditions already.

“Pneumonia by itself is a serious disease. I don’t know what the long-term complications are of that, but it took a long time for him to get better last year – a week in the hospital then a month, two months until he was 100% back to normal.

“Since then he has been very prone to getting colds and flu.”

The Foreign Office response

Under Chinese jurisdiction, only British passport holders who do not hold Chinese nationality are permitted to leave through assisted departure.

The Foreign Office is said to be “urgently exploring options” for those affected, and issued a statement:

  • The safety of British nationals is our top priority and we have been in close contact with British nationals and their family members who might need help.

    Our priority is to keep British nationals and their family members together and have urgently raised this with the Chinese authorities.

Britons returning from Wuhan will be put in quarantine for 14 days. Officials are looking at taking passengers to a military base once they arrive home, the Department of Health said.

A flight is due to leave Wuhan in China on Thursday. It will carry passengers from Wuhan city and those from Hubei province who want to return to the UK.