Qantas flight 6032 landed at Learmonth RAAF base in Western Australia just after 7pm. Passengers were then escorted onto military aircraft to be transported to Christmas Island, 2600 kilometres off the Australian coast. There they will be separated into families and isolated in their groups to begin their 14-day quarantine period before being allowed to return home.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said 89 of the passengers were aged under 16, including five under two. “We have prioritised vulnerable and isolated Australians,” she said.
More than 600 Australians have registered their interest in being evacuated from the lockdown zone, where hospitals are being guarded by the military and groceries are running out across Hubei province, an area home to 60 million people. Share markets in Shanghai and Shenzen fell sharply in response to the crisis on Monday after stocks in Japanese protective health mask companies surged.
Air New Zealand will take over the second evacuation from Qantas and deliver the evacuees to a military facility at Whangaparaoa, north of Auckland, where they could spend 14 days in isolation or be transported by the military another 7,501 kilometres onto to Christmas Island to join their compatriots. A note from the New Zealand Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed the flight was expected to depart on Tuesday evening.
As of Monday night, the Australian and New Zealand government were still negotiating if and how the Australian evacuees would be transported after arriving in New Zealand. The New Zealand government has indicated it would send Australians back to Australia.
A Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade spokesman said Australia was working closely with New Zealand on a potential assisted departure of a further group of Australians on an Air New Zealand flight this week.
“Australia and New Zealand have also been working with Pacific nations and Timor-Leste to provide assistance to their nationals where possible,” he said.
Australians have begun making preparation to travel to the evacuation point at Wuhan airport.
Allison, who asked to only be identified by her first name, said she did not want to leave when the evacuation was announced last week but as more countries cut off their borders, she was left with little choice.
“If I want to go by myself, there are no flights to take,” the 29-year-old human resources worker said. “The return seems remote.”
Bon Lee, a Sydney physiotherapist, said given the close proximity to major medical and hospital facilities he would “definitely prefer the option of going to New Zealand over Christmas Island”.
“But I would be interested in getting on the second flight even if it was going to Christmas Island,” he said.
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said once the evacuees arrived in Christmas Island they would be separated into families. He said if a family-member became ill it would re-start the quarantine clock for those in their group.
“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,” he said.
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.