Dual citizens who arrived on their Australian passports are believed to stand a better chance of being approved by China to leave than those who entered with their Chinese passports, but no decision has been made.
More than 600 Australians are believed to be in Hubei province and not all are expected to take up the government’s offer. Some have raised concern about being quarantined on Christmas Island, while others don’t want to leave family behind.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said WHO’s declaration on Friday morning Australian time was expected and anticipated by the Australian government.
“In terms of Australia, as of this morning, there are nine cases of coronavirus that have been confirmed in Australia. Two are in Queensland, three in Victoria and four are in New South Wales,” Mr Hunt said. “The advice is that all nine patients are stable and well cared for. The first two have been released and declared post-viral.”
Speaking in Sydney before convening cabinet’s national security committee (NSC) for an update on the evacuation plan, Mr Morrison said Australia was well equipped to deal with the potential pandemic.
“All of the issues, isolation, case management, contract tracing, prevention of onward spread, active surveillance, early detection, Australia has been doing these things and will continue to do,” he said.
An Australian Medical Assistance Team arrived on Christmas Island on Friday morning, with more health and border security staff to arrive over the weekend to prepare the detention centre for the arrival of the evacuees.
The government is considering transporting the evacuees from the Chinese city of Wuhan to mainland Australia – possibly Darwin – on a Qantas plane before transferring them to a military aircraft and then shuttling them to Christmas Island.
Despite a number of the Australians trapped in Wuhan expressing reluctance to be transferred to Christmas Island, Mr Morrison said there had “been very strong interest in participating in these arrangements”.
He defended the government’s decision to charge those being evacuated $1000 per person to be transported to Christmas Island. They will spend 14 days in quarantine in the facility before being flown back to Australia, likely Perth, and will then make their own way back to their home cities.
“These are the standard arrangements that are put in place for assisted departures,” Mr Morrison said.
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra