Australia

Coronavirus: Government scrambles to rescue 100 Australian schoolchildren trapped in Wuhan

Governments around the world are scrambling to repatriate their citizens stranded in China. Source: AAP

Australia is considering how to repatriate its citizens in China as the coronavirus death toll rises.

Government officials are working on an evacuation plan for Australian citizens, including 100 young people, trapped in the Chinese city of Wuhan which has been locked-down in a bid to contain the deadly coronavirus outbreak. 

The government is trying to determine exactly how many people are stranded in Hubei province after Chinese authorities barred travel to and from the epicentre of the deadly virus outbreak. 

On Sunday, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the government would look to assist Australians with travel out of China, with several cities in lockdown as authorities try to contain the virus.

Passengers' body temperatures are checked at a subway station in Beijing on Jan. 26, 2020, amid the spread of pneumonia caused by a new coronavirus in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. (Kyodo via AP Images) ==Kyodo
Passengers' body temperatures are checked at a subway station in Beijing on Sunday.
AAP

"We are seeking advice from the Chinese authorities on these restrictions and whether any options are available to international travellers," Senator Payne said.

"Our embassy in Beijing and our consulate in Shanghai are also working with international partners and the Chinese government to determine what support can be given to Australians on the ground."

The respiratory condition has killed 80 people and infected nearly 2,000 others, mostly in China. 

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Four patients in Australia have been diagnosed with the virus and a fifth person is considered a "probable" case. 

Health Minister Greg Hunt has confirmed about 100 Australian children are among those stuck in the area after travelling to Wuhan for Lunar New Year celebrations with relatives. 

"We are working on a number of fronts, firstly to make sure ... that there is support for those Australians and we are also working on, as are other countries, to try to secure their ability to return to Australia," he told ABC radio.

"At this point in time, the foreign minister is working around the clock on that." 

US to evacuate consular staff

There are calls for the government to follow the United States' example and charter a plane to repatriate stranded citizens in China.

Mr Hunt said all options are on the table, but said the focus was on the welfare of citizens on the ground. 

The US State Department is sending a plane to collect its consular staff and carry them to San Francisco but has warned there would only be limited space for the estimated 1,000 Americans living in Wuhan. 

"If there is insufficient ability to transport everyone who expresses interest, priority will be given to individuals at greater risk from coronavirus," the department said. 

epa08166004 Commuters wear face masks in the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) in Hong Kong, China, 26 January 2020. Hong Kong has confirmed a sixth case of the Wuhan coronavirus.  EPA/JEROME FAVRE
Hong Kong has banned anyone from Hubei province until further notice.

Thousands of foreign students and workers live in Wuhan, a normally bustling transport hub in central China home to a huge steel and auto industry.

France is also planning to evacuate its citizens stuck in Hubei province by bus, and French carmaker PSA - which has a sizable presence in Wuhan - said was formulating plans to evacuate staff and relatives for quarantine in a neighbouring province.

South Korea's consulate general in Wuhan conducted a poll on Sunday to determine the demand for a chartered plane for its citizens who want to return home, while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his country would fly out any nationals who wanted to leave.

Singapore has already repatriated 20 airline staff and passengers who were quarantined in the eastern city of Hangzhou for more than a day after fears one person on the flight was carrying the disease, according to The Straits Times newspaper. 

And Sri Lanka said Sunday it would fly back 150 students from China in the next two days. 

Additional reporting by AFP...

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