As the first group of Australian citizens and permanent residents was evacuated out of the coronavirus epicentre in Wuhan, China, to Christmas Island, one Australian shared an account of his difficulties trying to secure a spot on that flight.
In a public post he shared Monday on Facebook, Daniel Ou Yang said he was still in Wuhan preparing for a flight to New Zealand and claimed that Australian authorities were “keeping us in the dark” about evacuations to the Christmas Island facility where evacuees are being quarantined 1,500 km from the Australian mainland.
The 21-year-old Australian, reportedly in Wuhan to visit his grandparents, claimed the government didn’t inform him or his parents of the first flight to Christmas Island. He instead heard about it from friends, which prompted him to call authorities.
“I called them and asked about it which I was told that ‘there was no flight.’ I asked ‘So is that fake news?’” They replied yes, he wrote.
After hearing from more people about the flight, Yang said he “called them again and confronted them” and authorities finally admitted there was a flight. “At that time I understood the logic as the most vulnerable would be prioritised so I left it at that”, Yang continued.
An email from Consular Operations & Emergency Centre on January 30 informed Yang that he was registered to be evacuated and that the “date and time of the flight is yet to be finalised”. Yang said he received additional emails on Sunday and Monday informing him he would be evacuated on Tuesday to New Zealand. Australian citizens bound for New Zealand will then be transferred to Christmas Island, according to New Zealand’s government, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
After Yang apparently told his friend about this flight, his friend reportedly called the Australian Embassy to see if he could also be evacuated. Yang said his friend’s experience was “quite similar to mine”: The embassy allegedly first told him “there is no confirmed upcoming evacuation”, but once he told them of Yang’s flight, staff confirmed that flight but said he wasn’t on the priority list. He was also told there wasn’t another flight scheduled.
Yang told his Facebook followers he was mostly concerned about miscommunication between the Australian government and Australian citizens stuck in Wuhan. He also said there was confusion over the selection process for Christmas Island evacuations and a “lack of transparency”.
“I can see that information is deliberately being withheld from us selectively, and that has been a pattern”, he said. “I can even understand why some couldn’t make on the second flight if it was full, but I CAN’T understand why some of us are being kept in the dark about it”.
In a statement to HuffPost Australia, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said: “We are in close consultation with Chinese authorities on a possible second Australian assisted departure from Wuhan to Australia.
“If approved, the Australian Government would continue to prioritise the departure of the most vulnerable and isolated Australians in Wuhan and Hubei Province.
“This includes the young, particularly infants, and the elderly, as well as short-term travellers who do not have an established support structure in China. We will also make every effort to keep families together.
“We thank the Chinese Government for its close cooperation, which resulted in the first assisted departure flight from Wuhan on 3 February.”
Last week, Yang told AAP he feared that if he wasn’t on the first plane out of Wuhan to Christmas Island, he would have to remain in China for a few months.
“I would be putting my whole life on pause for possibly half the year”, he said. “A lot of things would have to be put on hold if I don’t get on this flight”.
On Monday evening, the first group of Australian citizens and permanent residents arrived on Christmas Island after being evacuated from Wuhan.
The 243 people on board the Qantas 747 jet out of Wuhan were given masks and hand sanitiser, and crew members were told to remain on the upper deck of the plane when not manning the doors. Evacuees arrived in Western Australia near Learmonth on Monday before being transferred to the remote Christmas Island detention centre for quarantine purposes.
They will have to stay in quarantine for 14 days.
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.
There were 600 Australians registered in the Hubei region as of last week, and Payne said Canberra would consider further evacuations if needed.
Carly Williams contributed to this report.