Britons returning from coronavirus-hit Wuhan will be placed in quarantine for 14 days.
Officials are considering taking passengers to a military base once they arrive home, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
Advice from Public Health England published on Tuesday told UK citizens returning from Wuhan to stay indoors and avoid contact with other people, as is the advice with other flu viruses, and to call NHS 111 to inform them if they have recently travelled to the city.
Flights taking Britons back home from the coronavirus-hit Chinese province of Hubei could begin on Thursday as urgent plans for a major evacuation were put in place.
Passengers may be asked to sign a contract before they board the plane saying they agree to being placed in quarantine, the DHSC said. Anyone who does not wish to sign could be asked to stay.
The health secretary Matt Hancock tweeted: “We are working hard to get British nationals back from Wuhan. Public safety is the top priority. Anyone who returns from Wuhan will be safely isolated for 14 days, with all necessary medical attention.”
The Foreign Office is warning against all but essential travel to the country because of the outbreak of the disease, and British Airways has suspended all flights to and from mainland China with immediate effect.
Britons in the city of Wuhan had until 11am (3am GMT) to contact the UK consulate telling them if they wished to leave – it is thought at least 200 British citizens want to return.
A British teacher in Wuhan said UK citizens were being given details of forthcoming flights and that a number of Britons had arranged to return home, with some scheduled on a flight at 7am on Thursday.
The Foreign Office said it might become more difficult for British nationals in other provinces to leave and advised them to “make decisions based on their own personal circumstances” over whether to evacuate. The British embassy in Beijing warned that transport to get UK citizens out “may happen quickly and with short notice”.
The UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said: “[Officials are] working urgently to finalise arrangements for an assisted departure from Hubei province for British nationals this week, and are in contact with people in Hubei to ensure they register their interest and that we can keep them updated.”
He added: “Due to the increasing travel restrictions and the public health situation, we now advise against all but essential travel to China.”
The death toll in China has risen to 132, with confirmed infections surging to nearly 6,000. France was the first European country to report a case, while four cases have been confirmed in Germany.
The United Arab Emirates has also confirmed its first cases of the virus, in a family who recently returned to the country from Wuhan.
Australian officials announced plans to evacuate some of its nationals from Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province, with plans to quarantine them in the Christmas Island immigration detention centre for up to 14 days – the incubation period for the virus.
In the UK, the Department of Health and Social Care has given the all-clear to 97 people but scientists predict the virus may have entered the country. There are no plans to put UK returnees in quarantine, but people coming back will be told to “self-isolate” and stay indoors for 14 days. More than 1,400 people have returned from Wuhan since 10 January.
In China, Hubei province has been on lockdown for several days while the government has imposed travel restrictions between its major cities, and the Ministry of Culture and Tourism has suspended all tour group companies’ activities to prevent the virus spreading.
On Tuesday Hong Kong said it would temporarily close some of its borders with mainland China and stop issuing travel permits to mainland tourists.