Contact between staff and passengers will be minimised, and the inflight food and beverage service will be limited. The upper deck of the 747 jet will be reserved for Qantas crew.
The Qantas flight to China was scheduled to stop first in Hong Kong before flying on to Wuhan. According to one post on social media on Sunday, the flight had been scheduled to depart Sydney at 12.40pm, but was delayed more than half an hour.
In a statement on Sunday evening, a spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said: “A Qantas plane departed Sydney on Sunday afternoon for Hong Kong on the first leg of an assisted departure operation for which Chinese cooperation remains essential.
“The government does not propose to comment further until the assisted departure of Australian citizens has been completed successfully.”
The spokesperson said the government was “grateful to the Chinese government for its cooperative approach to date in this matter”.
Before boarding the evacuation flight in China, all passengers will undergo health checks. The Qantas jet will be thoroughly cleaned before re-entering regular passenger service. The federal government is covering most of the flight cost.
In a press conference in Perth on Sunday, Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan said: “There is a flight coming in from China of Australians through Learmonth’s air base in the north of the state.”
“That will then result in people from that aircraft being transferred on to smaller charter flights, and they will be moved on to Christmas Island.
“That’s something that will be happening in the course of the next couple of days.”