An Australian man currently under lockdown in Wuhan says the government’s proposal to quarantine Australians in the Christmas Island detention centre is “outrageous” and would probably prevent many people from travelling back to Australia.
Rui Severino, a racehorse trainer from Melbourne, who has lived in China for the last four years, also criticised the Australian government for charging Australians to be transported to Christmas Island, saying he didn’t think it was a “fair move”.
Severino received a call from Australian embassy officials offering him transport home, but declined, saying he intended to remain in Wuhan, where he says he feels relatively safe and has a responsibility to his team of horse trainers and horses.
“I just couldn’t leave my team behind, these horses and these people, they put their trust in me every day, I could not turn my back on them,” he said over the phone from Wuhan.
Severino said he was in favour of the Australian government quarantining people and taking steps to protect others from the outbreak but said putting people “behind bars” in the detention facility at Christmas Island was not acceptable.
“These are families with mothers, children, and they’re going to a detention centre to be behind bars, to be behind barbed wire? That’s not really nice, I don’t think.”
“I’m sure they could find somewhere else to put these people,” he said.
Christmas Island, located 2,600km from the Australian mainland in the Indian Ocean, is the site of a notorious immigration detention facility that currently houses a single family: a Tamil couple and their two Australian-born children who are currently fighting their deportation from Australia.
Those who are evacuated on a charter flight from Wuhan will be quarantined in the detention centre for up to 14 days, the internationally recognised incubation period for the virus.
“It’s just outrageous really. It’s not a matter of being outrageous, you wouldn’t even think about it, no country would have even thought about it. Other countries are going to put people in hospitals and proper medical centres and proper medical set-ups.”
Severino only knows one other Australian in Wuhan. She was also contacted by Australian officials about travelling home, but told Severino she was “definitely not going under that situation”, something he suspected would be true for many Australians, who would prefer to remain under lockdown in Wuhan than spend up to 14 days on Christmas Island.
However, Severino said that if he really feared his life was in danger, he would make the trip.
“If you feared for your life you’d go anywhere, wouldn’t you? I would,” he said.
Severino was also critical of reports that the Australian government was charging people $1,000 to fly to Christmas Island, saying: “I don’t think that’s a fair move at all. If you’re talking about repatriation, if the government decides for whatever reason to evacuate people, whether it’s from a war, from a natural calamity, whatever it is, I don’t think costs should be mentioned, that’s my personal opinion.”
Severino, who lives in a residential area about 15 minutes from the centre of Wuhan, also described the impact of the outbreak on his daily life in the city.
After leaving his building compound each day, he has his temperature checked and has to declare where he is travelling to. Upon arrival at the training centre where he works, just a five-minute drive away, Severino undergoes another temperature check and is placed in an ultraviolet room for disinfection.
He said the sight of deserted streets was “surreal”, given how busy Wuhan, which has a population of roughly 11 million people, normally is.
“Yesterday I went to the centre of the little town where I live and it’s always full, it’s always packed out of people and I was the only one person walking down the street at 5:30 in the afternoon, it was quite surreal,” he said.
He estimated that 90% of shops had not reopened since lunar new year and those shops that were open had been cleared out of food.
“Yesterday I attempted to [go shopping] and there was only one shop open, of course everybody obviously goes to that shop, so there weren’t many things left, but I managed to buy some vegetables,” he said. “There have been some small supermarkets and small stores open but at the moment everyone is on pretty much rice, dumplings and vegetables.”
Severino spends his days at work and his nights shut inside at home, watching TV, cooking and video-calling his sons who live in Australia. He says he has been impressed with how quickly the Chinese government put measures into place in response to the outbreak, and emphasises how calm people are in the city.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, how quick these measures came into place and how everyone is obeying by these rules. Everyone is scared, you know, I’m not going to say no one’s scared, but everyone is calm. It’s not a Hollywood movie, it’s not a frantic situation.”
As of Thursday evening, there were seven confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia.