A Qantas flight bound for Wuhan to evacuate Australians trapped in China in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak left Sydney on Sunday afternoon.
There are believed to be around 600 Australian citizens and permanent residents stuck in Wuhan.
The Australian government had been negotiating with the Chinese government to allow a plane to fly in and evacuate those stuck in Wuhan as the world works to try to contain the coronavirus outbreak that has now more than 14,000 confirmed cases and has killed 305 people.
A Qantas 747 aircraft left Sydney in the early afternoon with a team of 14 Qantas cabin crew and four pilots bound for Hong Kong, and then Wuhan.
It is understood the flight will be departing from Wuhan at 2am local time (5am AEDT) and will head straight to Darwin, where those on board will then be transported to Christmas Island for a 14-day quarantine period.
The flight could not go direct to Christmas Island because the runway on the island is not long enough for the 747.
Those Qantas staff assigned to the flight volunteered, and the number of staff who volunteered exceeded the number of available positions on the flight.
Passengers will be required to go through health checks before boarding, and there will be medical staff on board to assist.
All crew and passengers will wear surgical masks that will be changed hourly, and crew will be given hand sanitiser.
The entire upper deck of the 747 will be reserved for the Qantas crew, and there will be limited inflight food and drinks in order to limit the exposure of the crew to passengers.
Speaking on Triple M radio on Friday, the Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, said crew would lay out meals and drinks on seats before the flight departed to avoid direct contact with passengers.
In normal operations, the 747-400 has 364 seats.
The aircraft also uses HEPA filters in its air-conditioning, and the plane will be cleaned once it has returned to Australia.
The crew will not be required to be quarantined after the flight. Australia’s chief medical officer, Prof Brendan Murphy, said on Sunday that the measures put in place to protect the crew should be sufficient to avoid the need for quarantine.
The federal government is covering the majority of the cost of the flight, and as announced on Sunday, passengers will not be expected to pay up to $1,000 for the evacuation, after the government backed down on its previous plan.
On Saturday, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced anyone bar Australian citizens and permanent residents, and New Zealand visa holders, would not be allowed to travel to Australia if they are coming from, or have travelled through, China.
Those who have arrived in Australia before the ban came into effect have been asked to isolate themselves for 14 days.