Australia

Tests clear Australians on Christmas Island of coronavirus

Hundreds of evaucess remain inside the detention centre. Source: AAP

The first virus evacuees on Christmas Island will return home on Monday with a second group leaving on Wednesday pending any final tests for the disease.

The first Australians quarantined on Christmas Island are on course to leave the detention centre next week with three suspected cases testing negative for the coronavirus.

The Australian Medical Assistance Team confirmed to SBS News on Wednesday that test results for a man suspected of having coronavirus have come back negative.

The man had been isolated from the other evacuees inside the Christmas Island detention centre, pending the results of a sample tested at Westmead hospital in western Sydney.

Health officials learned on Wednesday that the results had come back negative.

The man has since been released from isolation and is among other evacuees in the centre.

Last week, a young girl displayed flu-like symptoms, but her test also came back negative.

SBS News has confirmed that a third person tested negative for coronavirus on Tuesday night, with an initial test performed using a new diagnostic machine delivered to Christmas Island on Monday.

That third negative diagnosis will be cross-checked by an additional test performed on the mainland, with confirmatory results expected within 48-72 hours.

So far, 540 Australians have been airlifted from the Chinese province of Hubei - the epicentre of the virus - and quarantined on Christmas Island and a workers' camp near Darwin.

Pending any final tests, the first evacuees on Christmas Island will return home on Monday with a second group leaving on Wednesday.

Evacuees are seen in the Christmas Island Australian Immigration Detention Centre.
Evacuees are seen in the Christmas Island Australian Immigration Detention Centre.
AAP

"We have in place a system in Australia which, at this point, I stress at this point, is containing the spread," Health Minister Greg Hunt told parliament.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said a further flight out of China is not being considered, particularly as Qantas has now ceased flights to and from the country.

She said there were 40 new cases of the virus - now officially dubbed COVID-19 by the World Health Organization - on the Diamond Princess cruise ship moored off Yokohama.

"Our embassy in Tokyo is once again seeking urgent advice from Japanese authorities as to whether there are any Australians amongst those new cases," she told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

Media reports on Wednesday afternoon said four of the new cases are Australians.

The travel ban on overseas Chinese students and tourists coming into Australia is having an enormous impact on the Australian economy, but Mr Hunt said people's health comes first.

"We are very aware, like, deeply aware, of the economic consequences," he told reporters.

"But the consequences of contagion within Australia at an economic, let alone more significantly a human level, would be extraordinary."

Health Minister Greg Hunt talks to the media.
Health Minister Greg Hunt talks to the media.
AAP

Of the 15 cases reported in Australia, five have recovered and the remaining 10 are all stable.

Earlier, Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said authorities are prepared for all eventualities.

He said the worst-case scenario would be if the virus was very severe and there was a significant pandemic in Australia.

"That would obviously be a very significant strain on our health system and on our economy," he said.

Passengers from a China Southern Airlines flight touch down in Australia.
Passengers from a China Southern Airlines flight touch down in Australia.
Getty

"We are not anticipating that at the moment but we are certainly prepared for all eventualities."

Professor Murphy's deputy, Paul Kelly, told reporters there has been debate over the length of the 14-day quarantine period.

"There are still many things we don't know about this virus, one of those is that incubation period," he said.

"We are using 14 days as a precautionary approach, it's most likely less than that."

The head of World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday said the virus poses "a very grave threat for the rest of the world".

Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone said the message was timely.

Dr Bartone said while Australia has been "very robustly" at the forefront of efforts, not everyone is doing their utmost to ensure "what is currently a very serious situation does not become a major calamitous outbreak".

He declined to point the finger at any particular country.

However, Professor Murphy said he felt it was "very surprising" that no cases had been reported in neighbouring and highly populated Indonesia.

"There should be a cause for some concern. There may be undetected cases," he said.

Senator Payne said Australian authorities are working with their Indonesian counterparts and will provide support if required.

Chinese authorities believe the spread of the virus has peaked and it will be over by April.

But Professor Murphy said it is too early to make such predictions as to whether the Chinese are getting on top of this at the moment.

Mr Hunt said there are 44,754 confirmed cases of the virus worldwide and 1112 deaths.

Additional reporting: AAP

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