Australia

Australians stranded in Wuhan to be evacuated to Christmas Island

Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Canberra. Source: AAP

Scott Morrison has announced some of the 600 Australians stuck in the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak will be evacuated.

The government is planning to evacuate some Australians stuck in Wuhan and surrounds, using Christmas Island as a quarantine area.

"We're preparing a plan for an operation to provide some assisted departures for isolated and vulnerable Australians in Wuhan and the Hubei province," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday.

"This will be done subject obviously to working closely and with the authority and approval of the Chinese government ... I stress that this will be done on a last in, first out basis," he said.

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"We're particularly focused on the more vulnerable components of that population. That's young people, particularly infants, and those who are elderly."

Mr Morrison said Christmas Island would be used "as a quarantine area" where the evacuees would stay for 14 days.

The detention centre on Christmas Island.
The detention centre on Christmas Island.
AAP

He said it was too early to tell how many of the 600 Australians in and around Wuhan will be evacuated.

Locally, the prime minister said an additional one million masks will be distributed around the country.

"This is a serious and evolving situation," he said.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said the evacuations may take some time.

"We must be prepared to be patient as this process is undertaken," she said.

"Australia is not the only country seeking diplomatic support and clearances for these activities. But we are seeking permission from the Chinese authorities."

The Morrison government reopened Christmas Island detention centre last year.

It has cost taxpayers almost $27 million since being reopened despite holding just four detainees

 

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Smart Traveller

The decision was slammed by Shire Council Mayor of Christmas Island Gordon Thomson, who reportedly told ABC News on Wednesday it would "create a convict settlement for innocent people".

"Now we'll be a leper colony. These ideas were abandoned in the mid-20th century," he said via text message.

The federal government's Smart Traveller website was updated late on Tuesday telling Australians to "reconsider your need to travel to China" and also advising people "not" to travel to Hubei province at all.

"Chinese authorities have restricted travel for parts of the country and may extend these restrictions at short notice," the advice said.

"Travellers may be quarantined, due to their health condition or previous location."

The number of confirmed deaths from China's viral outbreak has risen to 131, with authorities in central Hubei province on Wednesday reporting 25 new fatalities and 840 new cases.

The latest figures from hard-hit Hubei, the epicentre of the contagion, would put the nationwide total of confirmed infections at more than 5,300, based on figures previously released by the central government.

The new figures came as Japan airlifted about 200 of its nationals out of the city, and the US evacuated about 240 Americans by air. 

Medical workers in protective gear talk with a woman suspected of being ill with coronavirus at a community health station in Wuhan.
Medical workers in protective gear talk with a woman suspected of being ill with coronavirus at a community health station in Wuhan.
AAP

Five people are being treated in Australian hospitals for the virus. Four of those cases - including one woman and three men - are in NSW and the fifth, another man, is in Melbourne.

Four adult patients in Western Australia were cleared of the virus after undergoing tests on Tuesday evening.

Authorities are bracing for more infections to be confirmed in Australia, and are working to trace all human contact made by infected patients since they entered the country from China.

More than 50 million people have been locked down in and around Wuhan in a bid by authorities to stop an infection that has since spread to other cities in China and to other countries.

France has also said it intends to fly its citizens out of the city in the coming days.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called the virus a "demon" during talks on Tuesday with the head of the World Health Organization in Beijing, and pledged a "timely" release of updates about the crisis.

Additional reporting: AAP, AFP

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