British health officials said on Friday two people had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, in the country’s first confirmed cases since the deadly outbreak emerged in China and began to spread globally this month.

“We can confirm that two patients in England, who are members of the same family, have tested positive for coronavirus,” Chris Whitty, Chief Medical Officer for England, said in a statement.

“The patients are receiving specialist NHS care, and we are using tried and tested infection control procedures to prevent further spread of the virus,” he added, referring to the National Health Service (NHS).

Whitty said the state-funded NHS was “extremely well-prepared” and officials were “working rapidly to identify any contacts the patients had, to prevent further spread”.

“We have been preparing for UK cases of novel coronavirus and we have robust infection control measures in place to respond immediately,” he added.

The SARS-like virus epidemic which originated in the central Chinese city Wuhan has so far killed 213 people and spread to at least 18 countries around the world.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday declared it an international public health emergency.

Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, has been subject to an unprecedented lockdown, preventing residents from leaving in a bid to stop the deadly virus from spreading further.

Thousands of foreigners were among millions of people confined in the metropolis, and numerous countries have begun airlifting their citizens out.

A plane chartered by Britain to evacuate its citizens and other foreign nationals on Friday departed the city with 110 people aboard — 83 Britons and 27 foreigners.

It will land at an air force base in central England at around 1:00pm (local time), with returning Britons to be isolated for 14 days at a medical facility in the northwest of England.

It is understood the newly-confirmed cases of the virus in Britain are not located in that region.

UK health officials declined to reveal where they had occurred citing patient confidentiality.

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