Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Saturday that people who had visited or transited through mainland China from Saturday would be banned from entering Australia for two weeks, in a bid to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The policy took effect as the number of confirmed cases increased to 14,549 globally on Sunday and China’s death toll passed 300.
The ban does not extend to Australian citizens, permanent residents and members of their immediate family. However, as Mr You discovered, the definition of “immediate family” did not include his mother.
“We only have two options right now; I either buy a ticket right now, today, [for my mother] to fly back to China or … her visa will be cancelled and she will go into another detention centre and be sent back to China,” he said on Sunday afternoon.
“At least they could have given us a warning or something so we could have changed the [flight] schedule.”
Later on Sunday he said he had to “buy a ticket for my mum to fly back to China tonight”.
“[I’m] very disappointed, frustrated and helpless,” Mr You said.
It was a similar situation for Sydneysider Di Zhao, 43, whose 70-year-old father was due to arrive in Sydney from Shanghai on Sunday morning.
“I just keep waiting at the airport,” she said. “I’m very helpless. The only person I worry about is my Dad. He can’t speak English.”
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant confirmed on Sunday there were no new coronavirus cases in the state, with the figure remaining at four.
Three of the four cases in NSW had been discharged from hospital, with a 21-year-old female student from UNSW discharged over the weekend and two men aged 53 and 35 discharged on Thursday. A 43-year-old man remained in isolation.
Dr Chant said a further 30 cases were under investigation “from the affected travel regions” as more people were encouraged to come forward for testing.
NSW Health had deployed a team of doctors and nurses to Sydney Airport on Sunday morning to meet flights where passengers had left mainland China in recent days.
“Those health teams [had] assessed over 1100 people as of 2pm and had referred a small number, seven, for further assessment,” Dr Chant said. “In all likelihood, those patients would have other causes for their mild respiratory symptoms. We’re taking a very cautionary approach.”
Dr Chant said NSW Health had also advised travellers who departed mainland China after Saturday to self-isolate in Australia for 14 days. Advice on self-isolation, published online and in posters in English and Chinese, included staying away from work, school, public areas and public transport, including taxis.
Those sharing a home were advised to stay in different rooms from others, as far as possible, and wear a surgical mask when in the same room or seeking medical care.
“It is critical people who are asked to self-isolate do so [and] follow the advice on NSW Health’s website … available in both English and simplified Chinese,” a NSW Health spokesperson said.
“If people who are in self-isolation become unwell, they should call their GP and tell them, or [contact the] health direct [hotline] … or 000 in an emergency.”
Yam Ge, 29, arrived in Melbourne on Sunday afternoon and said he and his partner, both Australian permanent residents from China who visited Shanghai for two weeks for Chinese New Year, would have self-isolated in any case “just to be responsible towards others”. “With this virus, some people carry it but don’t have any symptoms,” he said. “That might happen to us as well so we’d self-isolate anyway, just in case.”
Permanent resident Li Li, from Chongxin in central China, said he had his temperature checked twice in Shanghai and once upon landing in Melbourne. He also plans to self-isolate and not attend his job at a university for two weeks, meaning he will rely on friends for supplies.
“We plan to ask some friends to deliver to our door,” he said.
“As it’s necessary, we will not go out. Not just for us, but for the good of others, right? We have some games at home, so it should be fine.”
He said everyone on the Shanghai flight was already wearing a mask, but quarantine officials checked on board to ensure they were.
For Australian sisters Jasmine, Ebony, Olivia, it had been a long 25 hours in transit when they arrived at Melbourne Airport on Sunday.
They were in Shanghai about to fly to Vietnam when airport staff ran to them and said they were not allowed to board their flight because Vietnam, like Australia, had suddenly issued an entry ban on non-citizens.
“So they basically took us out of the airport, gave us our bags back, dumped us literally in front of the airport and we had to buy a flight home,” Ebony said.
They booked the next available flight to Melbourne and landed at 1.40pm. They’re three of about 700 people who landed in Melbourne from China on Sunday, down from what would normally have been about 5000, according to DFAT officials. About 100 people were on the plane, Olivia said.
“Our plane arrived at the terminal, nobody is being let on or off yet. They spray the luggage area at the top of the plane, then three or four quarantine officers came on board and handed out masks,” she said.
“Once everyone was masked, more [officers] came on and handed out pamphlets which basically says we are to self-isolate for 14 days.”
Michaela Whitbourn is a legal affairs reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.
Michael is a reporter for The Age.