The first group of Australian citizens and permanent residents, evacuated out of the coronavirus epicentre in Wuhan, have arrived on Christmas Island.
The virus has killed 361 people and there are 12 confirmed cases in Australia.
The evacuees arrived in WA near Learmonth on Monday before being transferred to the remote detention centre for quarantine purposes. The Australian-run facility has in the past been used to detain asylum seekers and is 1,500 km from the mainland.
The 243 people on board the Qantas 747 jet out of Wuhan were given masks and hand sanitiser, and the crew were being told to remain on the upper deck of the plane other than for manning the doors.
Passengers, including Brisbane Youtuber Rob Kellett, 26, will have to stay in quarantine for 14 days.
Kellett moved to Wuhan with a good friend last last year and had “high hopes” to explore the city and be closer to his girlfriend who already lived in Wuhan. |
“Everything was going well, until a few weeks ago when a new virus outbreak began,” he said on Instagram.
Kellett has since had to leave his Ukrainian partner and evacuate China.
“Can’t wait to be together in a safe place,” he wrote on an Instagram Story on Tuesday.
The Australian government has prioritised the evacuation to help “vulnerable and isolated Australians.”
“That is reflected in the fact that 89 of the Australians on the flight are under 16 and five are under two,” said Foreign Minister Marise Payne.
The aircraft has medical grade air filters, which eliminate 99% of particles, including viruses, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said.
“It’s a lot safer, a lot cleaner than being in a restaurant, in an office,” he said.
Payne said the evacuees will be transported to Christmas Island on Australian military flights.
Wuhan in Hubei province has been in lockdown to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed 361 people. The first death from the virus outside China was reported on Sunday in the Philippines.
There were 600 Australians registered in the Hubei region as of last week, and Payne said Canberra would consider further evacuations if needed.
Reuters contributed to this report.