A refugee from Wuhan arrives at Christmas Island. Picture: Colin Murty, courtesy of The Australian
A refugee from Wuhan arrives at Christmas Island. Picture: Colin Murty, courtesy of The Australian

Aussie virus evacuees land at Christmas Island

The first Australian citizens evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan have landed on Christmas Island, with a new group of Australian evacuees expected to leave Wuhan today on an Air New Zealand charter.

Seventy-two people were on board the first of four charter flights expected to take more than 240 evacuees to Christmas Island in a remote region of the Indian Ocean.

 

Australian evacuees from Wuhan have arrived on Christmas Island and been loaded onto mini buses. Picture: Sharon Tisdale
Australian evacuees from Wuhan have arrived on Christmas Island and been loaded onto mini buses. Picture: Sharon Tisdale

 

The Airbus left Western Australia's RAAF Base Learmonth, near Exmouth, on Monday night, and touched down on Christmas Island about 9pm local time (1am Tuesday AEDT).

Those on board were among the 243 who had earlier been evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the deadly coronavirus, via a Qantas flight that arrived at the Learmonth base about 4pm local time on Monday.

 

Australian evacuees on Christmas Island. Picture: Sharon Tisdale
Australian evacuees on Christmas Island. Picture: Sharon Tisdale

 

Evacuees from Wuhan, China, arrive at Christmas Island via Western Australia. Picture: Colin Murty, courtesy of The Australian
Evacuees from Wuhan, China, arrive at Christmas Island via Western Australia. Picture: Colin Murty, courtesy of The Australian

 

 

Meanwhile, another group of Australians, thought to number several dozen, will also leave Wuhan today (Tuesday) aboard a special Air New Zealand charter. They will be quarantined along with 70 New Zealand evacuees at a military base near Auckland, or they can ask to be transferred to Christmas Island.

On Christmas Island, the first evacuees to land - who wore face masks and included men, women and children - were met by army and medics and taken to buses. Families left the plane in the rain and boarded mini-buses and were taken by police escort to the former detention centre.

Australian evacuees board mini-buses on Christmas Island. Picture: Sharon Tisdale
Australian evacuees board mini-buses on Christmas Island. Picture: Sharon Tisdale

They are to remain on the island for at least 14 days.

A Hercules aircraft also landed containing several vehicles including an ambulance, and another flight is expected to reach the island later today.

Wuhan evacuees arrive at Christmas Island. Picture: Colin Murty, courtesy of The Australian
Wuhan evacuees arrive at Christmas Island. Picture: Colin Murty, courtesy of The Australian

 

 

Of the 243 passengers, five are under two years old while 89 are younger than 16.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the plan was for passengers to be isolated in small family groups on Christmas Island.

"There won't be a full mingling," he said in Canberra on Monday. "If someone does get unwell their family might have to start again for 14 days but we wouldn't want to expose the whole group to that."

 

Australians evacuated from Wuhan arrive at the RAAF Base in Learmonth, WA. Picture: Supplied
Australians evacuated from Wuhan arrive at the RAAF Base in Learmonth, WA. Picture: Supplied

 

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the government would "consider what might be necessary" when asked if a second flight would be organised from Wuhan. There have been 12 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia, and more than 17,000 cases and 360 deaths globally.

Foreign travellers who have left or passed through China will be denied entry to Australia to limit the spread of the virus.

 

AUSTRALIANS LAND IN WA AFTER EVACUATION FROM WUHAN

Earlier, the coronavirus evacuation plane used to transport 243 Australian citizens and permanent residents - including 89 children under the age of 16, of whom five are aged under two - landed in Western Australia.

Qantas Flight 6032 touched down at the RAAF Base Learmonth near Exmouth in WA's north at 4.09pm WA time on Monday afternoon.

Australians evacuated from Wuhan arrive in WA. Picture: Supplied
Australians evacuated from Wuhan arrive in WA. Picture: Supplied

Evacuees had their health checked and were split into groups of between 50 and 70 people before boarding smaller planes to travel Christmas Island.

Some of the travellers will also have an extended stay in WA as they wait for a spot on one of the five flights to take them to its tiny airport.

The flight route of the coronavirus evacuee flight from Wuhan to Australia.
The flight route of the coronavirus evacuee flight from Wuhan to Australia.

Passengers on later flights will stay in "transit accommodation" at the RAAF base in Learmonth.

The flight's landing comes as footage emerged showing the inside of the evacuation plane used to transport Australians from the city where deadly coronavirus outbreak first originated - Wuhan, China.

Evacuees arriving in Australia. Picture: Supplied
Evacuees arriving in Australia. Picture: Supplied

The evacuees can be seen wearing masks and sporting sombre expressions as they wait and receive immigration and medical checks, and wrist bands to mark they are ready to board after a five hour delay.

The team assisting with the evacuation of Australians from Wuhan to Australia. Picture: 7 News
The team assisting with the evacuation of Australians from Wuhan to Australia. Picture: 7 News

On-board the aircraft, Australians were met with meals on their seats and complimentary kits - marked clinical waste - including face masks, hand wipes and sanitiser.

Among the evacuees, professional roller bladers Josh Nielzen, of Sydney, and Rob Kellett, of Brisbane, who were on tour in China, can be seen on-board the flight.

Kellett had left behind his girlfriend of three years behind and can be seen saying in a video: "Who knows what the right choice was but it's the safer one."

In a message to his father, shared on social media, Nielzen showed his enthusiasm for the flight to Christmas Island with an update and selfie.

Australian travellers Rob Kellett and Josh Neilzen. Picture: 7 News
Australian travellers Rob Kellett and Josh Neilzen. Picture: 7 News

"Hey dad just thought I'd give you the latest update," he said.

"There's a flight leaving here in five hours and I'm at the airport."

Nielzen's father responded: "Great news Josh."

Josh Nielzen’s message to his father prior to boarding the flight from Wuhan to Western Australia.
Josh Nielzen’s message to his father prior to boarding the flight from Wuhan to Western Australia.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said: "The Qantas flight also successfully delivered a significant quantity of medical protection supplies to support China in battling this virus.

"That includes specialised face masks, protective suits, goggles, gloves, with an absolute focus on the safety of Australians at home and abroad."

Chief Medical Officer Professor Murphy said there have now been 17,386 reported cases and 362 deaths, including one outside China.

"The death rate is still around two per cent, the severity rate is still around 18 per cent, with most of the growth in the Hubei province of China," he said.

Prof Murphy said he did not know how long Australia's travel ban on non-citizens coming from China would be in place at this early stage.

"I think it's really hard to tell at the moment," he said.

"It all depends on how well the Chinese government can control the outbreak in Hubei and the rest of China.

"The Chinese authorities have started to reduce travel from China and if the outbreak spreads further in other provinces, they are likely to restrict anyway so the travel ban perhaps is less important, restricting exit anyway."

THREE INFECTED PATIENTS 'NO LONGER A THREAT'

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said that three of the four confirmed patients with coronavirus had been released from hospital and are no longer a threat to the public.

"We still only have four patients that have been confirmed to have the novel coronavirus infection in NSW," Dr Chant said.

"No new patients have been confirmed, I note that the total across Australia is 12 patients.

A Qantas plane was sent to Wuhan to rescue Australians in the coronavirus area. Picture: Monique Harmer
A Qantas plane was sent to Wuhan to rescue Australians in the coronavirus area. Picture: Monique Harmer

Three of the patients were discharged and are doing well, one of the patients remains hospitalised but in a stable condition.

"For the utmost precaution they (the three) were asked to isolate for seven days after discharge and there will be repeat testing. The public can be confident that they pose no risk.

"We currently have 24 suspected patients that are under investigation and pleasingly we have cleared 134 people who have tested negative for the infection."

Dr Chant said that health authorities will remain stationed at Sydney Airport to screen for further potential cases.

"On Sunday February 2 we met 1680 people who were screened by the NSW Health team and nine were referred for testing and all of those tests came back negative," she said.

"On Monday as of 2pm we screened another 1500 returning from China, six were referred to testing and we're expecting around another 400 who will be screened this afternoon."

Dr Chant said people who have not been in direct contact with people from Wuhan or mainland China will not need to come forward for testing at this stage.

INSIDE THE RESCUE FLIGHT

The volunteer Qantas crew manning the Boeing 747 that will fly stranded Australians out of the Chinese city of Wuhan are ready "to get this done", the airline's CEO says.

Hundreds of citizens and residents are due today to be flown from the epicentre of the coronavirus to Exmouth in northern Western Australia, before being taken to Christmas Island where they will be quarantined.

 

The Qantas plane carrying four pilots and 14 cabin crew has taken off from Wuhan in Hubei province in central China.

The plane is due to land at the RAAF Base Learmonth near Exmouth in Western Australia's north about 2.30pm WST on Monday.

The passengers will later be taken to Christmas Island in smaller aircraft where they will be quarantined.

Earlier, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce paid tribute to the crew who volunteered for the mission.

"I spoke to the crew last night and through FaceTime video and they were all very keen to get this done and get the Aussies out," Mr Joyce said.

"We put in a whole series of protections for these volunteers to make sure that they are protected.

"The flight is on the ground in Wuhan at the moment."

Passengers will go through health checks before boarding and will wear surgical masks.

There will be a limited food and beverage service to minimise interaction between crew and passengers and the 747 plane will be thoroughly cleaned afterwards.

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Mr Joyce said the crew have masks, gloves and sanitisers, and will be placed on the upper deck of the aircraft.

"They are there for safety reasons," Mr Joyce said.

"In-flight, there is water left on the seats. The crew go back to the upper deck, which is sealed."

AUSTRALIAN STOCKS DIVE AMID VIRUS FEARS

Australian stocks dive amid virus fears Australian shares have been hammered at the start of trading amid continued fears about the impact on the global economy of the coronavirus epidemic.

The Australian benchmark S & P/ASX200 index was down 113.4 points, or 1.62 per cent, at 6903.8 at 1015 AEDT on Monday, while the broader All Ordinaries index fell 120.1 points, or 1.69 per cent, to 7001.1.

The hardest hit was the energy sector, with the index down 3.77 per cent after 15 minutes of trade The Australian dollar was buying 66.87 US cents, down from 67.19 US as the market closed on Friday.

QLD TOURISM TAKING A HIT

Far north Queensland's tourism sector has already lost $10 million to the coronavirus outbreak as travel bans from China hit hard.

Cairns and Great Barrier Reef tourism operators have reported more than 25,000 direct cancellations of visitor experiences and accommodation as a result of the outbreak.

 

International visitors were down by 60 to 70 per cent in January.

The same is forecast for February, a time of the year when Chinese visitors usually pump about $25 million a month into the regional economy.

AUSTRALIA IMPOSES TRAVEL BAN

The federal government has announced foreign travellers who have left or passed through China will be denied entry to Australia to offset the risk of the virus spreading.

Federal health minister Greg Hunt confirmed an Australian medical assistance team with a mobile hospital had also arrived in the former detention centre of Christmas Island.

People line up to check in for Air China flight CA430 headed to Chengdu from Sydney airport on Saturday night. Picture: Monique Harmer
People line up to check in for Air China flight CA430 headed to Chengdu from Sydney airport on Saturday night. Picture: Monique Harmer

"Personnel are in place to receive the passengers from Wuhan and we expect that the flight will be collecting within the next 24 hours," Mr Hunt told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.

The health minister also confirmed more strict screenings would be in place for passengers arriving not only from Hubei province but all mainland China.

People who have been in mainland China since the start of February - excluding Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan - are now advised to self-isolate.

 

Australians are also being told not to travel to mainland China.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Saturday foreign travellers who have left or passed through China will be denied entry to Australia aiming to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

 

"Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families, dependants, legal guardians and spouses, will be exempted from the strict measures," Mr Morrison said.

"If you've been in mainland China from the 1st of February and you're not an Australian citizen [ …] do not travel to Australia at this time," Border Force Commissioner Michael Outram said.

Huoshenshan Hospital construction nears completion in Wuhan, China. Picture: Stringer/Getty Images
Huoshenshan Hospital construction nears completion in Wuhan, China. Picture: Stringer/Getty Images

"If you arrive in Australia … your visa will be cancelled and you will be placed in an alternative place of detention for a quarantine period."

Mr Outram told reporters 71 passengers were not allowed to board their plane in China overnight and 12 flights were cancelled on Sunday.

As a result of this decision, Football Federation Australia advised the Asian Football Confederation it will now not be possible to play the first match of the AFC Champions League 2020 in Australia.

- with AAP

Australian traveller Rob Kellett has his information checked by a staff member. Picture: 7 News
Australian traveller Rob Kellett has his information checked by a staff member. Picture: 7 News


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