More than 240 Australians are heading home on a Qantas flight that has left Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
After a 14-hour delay, 243 Australian citizens and permanent residents have finally flown out of the Chinese city of Wuhan.
Australians had been told to arrive at the airport at 6pm on Sunday night, but the flight did not leave until late Monday morning.
Australian scientists show timelapse of coronavirus growing in lab
Quarantined Australians to be kept in small family groups
The plane is due to land at the RAAF Base Learmonth near Exmouth in Western Australia’s north on Monday afternoon before being taken to Christmas Island on smaller military aircraft.
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy says the plan is for passengers to be kept in small family groups.
“There won’t be a full mingling,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“If someone does get unwell their family might have to start again for 14 days but we wouldn’t want to expose the whole group to that.”
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the government would “consider what might be necessary” when asked if a second flight would be organised from Australia to Wuhan.
The Qantas flight also delivered medical supplies to China, including masks, protective suits and gloves.
Travel ban not racist
Senator Payne also rejected claims that travel bans stopping people who have recently been to China from entering Australia are racist.
The federal government has announced that foreign travellers who have left or passed through China will be denied entry to Australia to offset the risk of the virus spreading.
Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families, dependents, legal guardians and spouses, are exempt from the strict measures.
Some 71 travellers to Australia were not allowed to board their plane in China on Saturday night and 12 flights were cancelled on Sunday.
Senator Payne said the travel ban and decision to raise the travel advice had been based on advice from health experts.
“Any negative behaviour is something we would actively discourage. It’s not necessary, we are working hard to protect Australians. What we need is a little bit of understanding and support for communities which are dealing with some challenges.”
Plane fitted with medical-grade filters
Earlier, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce paid tribute to the crew of four pilots and 14 cabin staff who volunteered for the mission.
“I spoke to the crew last night and through FaceTime video and they were all very keen to get this done and get the Aussies out,” he said.
Passengers underwent health checks before boarding the flight and will wear surgical masks.
There will be a limited food and beverage service to minimise interaction between crew and passengers and the plane will undergo a three-day cleaning process when it returns.
Wuhan residents show daily life under Wuhan’s coronavirus quarantine
The crew have masks, gloves, and sanitisers and will be placed on the upper deck of the aircraft.
“In-flight, there is water left on the seats. The crew go back to the upper deck, which is sealed,” Mr Joyce said.
The plane has medical-grade filters that remove particles in the air, including viruses.
There have been 12 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia, more than 14,000 cases of the virus globally, with just over 300 deaths.
Australia’s travel ban effective: Dutton
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the government’s protective measures were effective.
“Many people now coming from mainland China, who have been in China as at the first of February, are deciding not to travel,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“That’s been because of the edict issued by the border force commissioner that people shouldn’t be uploaded onto flights.”
Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said thousands of tourists would also be affected by the virus, with the sector expected to take an $11 billion hit, but public health must come first.
“This is our largest tourism market, our largest international education market, our largest trading partner so, of course, it is a significant and severe impact,” he said.
Senator Birmingham said Tourism Australia would look to “recalibrate” existing resources to help affected tourism operators, and urged Australians to holiday domestically.