Chinese-Australians cancel flights home as deadly coronavirus spreads


Some Chinese-Australians have been forced to change their Lunar New Year travel plans as the deadly coronavirus continues to spread.

James Li sits on the floor of his Altona home in Melbourne’s south-west, playing with his three-year-old daughter Grace and eight-month-old son Mason.

Today, he should have been introducing his parents to their first grandson in his hometown of Wuhan, China.

But the animal market, thought to be the source of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, is just five kilometres from his parent’s house. Mr Li told SBS News, the family reunion will have to wait.

“We have two young kids, one is three years old, the other is only eight months we don’t want to take any risk.”

Grace and Mason

The tickets were booked six months ago and his parents renovated their house to make rooms for the children with plans for an elaborate succession of parties to celebrate Lunar New Year.

Mr Li said they had to cancel as the virus had spread to more than 400 people.

“My parents got the house ready, they renovated, decorated the house, they really get excited and wait for us to come but we can’t go,” he told SBS News.

Li Family

Australia has three direct flights from Wuhan each week, and while the risk of transmission in Australia remains low, the government has enacted a National Incident Response Centre, and biosecurity screening at Sydney airport.

One person in Brisbane had been quarantined after falling ill upon returning from Wuhan, but a Queensland Health spokesperson announced, Wednesday, laboratory tests confirmed have does not have the novel coronavirus.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has called for calm, while federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia is well prepared for a biological emergency.

“We have been fortunate so far that we have stepped up the measures with the national incident response centre, biosecurity measures. All of the planes being met. Biosecurity officers and health officers as well as the states being prepared for any outbreak if that were to occur,” Mr Hunt said.

According to infectious disease experts, while human-to-human spread has been confirmed, the severity of the virus is still unknown.

Dr Irani Thevarajan from the Royal Melbourne Hospital said victims who have died of the disease in China have also been elderly and vulnerable.

“On one end of the spectrum we have infections like SARS, novel coronavirus and MERS coronavirus that can cause severe illness, on the other end of the coronavirus spectrum we have the common cold,” Dr Thevarajan told SBS News.

The federal government upgraded its travel advice for China, Tuesday, warning Australians if they travel to Wuhan to exercise a high degree of caution and if they develop a respiratory illness to seek medical advice.

Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said all appropriate preventative measures are currently being taken.

“No country can really guarantee to prevent the entry of a new virus, particularly one like this which has an incubation period up to seven days, where people may be asymptomatic,” he said.

Scientists at the University of Queensland remain on standby to assist in developing a vaccine should the virus reach emergency pandemic levels.

Molecular virologist Dr Keith Chappell says they have developed a technology that allows them to create the vaccines very quickly to distribute in the population.

Grace and Mason

“Best case scenario this will all blow over and we won’t need to respond at all. Worst case scenario it will be a pandemic and we will need millions or billions of doses.”

However, with the outbreak coinciding with China’s busiest season for travellers many aren't risking the worst-case scenario.

Many of Mr Li's friends and family in Wuhan are choosing to ring in the new year alone.

“They’re supposed to have each party, each family for 7-10 days but they’re all cancelled, they’re all staying home.”

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