Trapped Australians still seeking a way out of the coronavirus epicentre of Wuhan will be able to board a New Zealand government evacuation flight to leave the sequestered city, possibly as early as Tuesday evening.
Wellington’s rescue mission for its citizens has seen about 70 New Zealand citizens register to leave. The remaining seats on the aircraft will be filled with Australians, Samoans and Tongans who have correct travel and identity documents, and who pass health checks, NZ health minister David Clark said.
Final timing of the flight and passenger details are still to be confirmed, in consultation with Chinese authorities, but there is growing expectation the aircraft will be given approval to land in Wuhan late Tuesday local time and to fly out again later that night.
New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders evacuated from Wuhan will spend 14 days at a military base at Whangaparaoa, just north of Auckland.
“The training camp has been chosen because of its size and facilities, as well as its location and secure nature. It also has its own medical facilities,” Clark said.
Australian citizens are likely to be flown across the continent to Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, for quarantining.
“It is expected that any Australian citizens and residents will be transferred on to a dedicated flight – with its own health measures in place – across the Tasman in coordination with the Australian government,” Clark said.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed negotiations were ongoing between the two governments. “Australia is working closely with New Zealand on a potential assisted departure of a further group of Australians on an Air New Zealand flight this week, subject to availability,” a department spokesperson said.
Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province, is the epicentre of the global coronavirus outbreak which has infected more than 17,400 people and killed 362. All but one of the deaths have been in China.
Across the world’s most populous country, more than 50 million people are on lockdown, unable to leave.
Meanwhile, the first of 243 Australian citizens and permanent residents who flew out of Wuhan Monday morning have arrived on Christmas Island to begin a 14-day quarantine period.
Qantas Flight 6032 touched down at Learmonth RAAF base in Western Australia shortly after 4pm local time.
Evacuees were then moved to smaller aircraft and flown to Christmas Island, arriving overnight.
While some passengers were transferred immediately to Christmas Island, others will take longer: transit accommodation and dining areas have been set up for some passengers.
One passenger was taken to Perth from Exmouth, suffering an unrelated health condition that could not be treated on Christmas Island.
On the island, a field hospital, screening and testing rooms have been set up to manage the arrivals. Generators, medical equipment and supplies have all been flown from the mainland.
An Australian Medical Assistance (Ausmat) team, which includes doctors, nurses, paediatric specialists and logistics experts, arrived at the weekend in preparation. The 23-person medical crew will remain isolated with the passengers inside the detention centre for the duration of the quarantine period.
The evacuees from China have been separated into families and small groups, and isolated from each other, so that any potential outbreaks of the virus are contained to as few people as possible. All passengers underwent health checks, screening for symptoms of the virus before boarding.
Of the 243 passengers, 89 were aged under 16, including five infants. “We have prioritised vulnerable and isolated Australians,” the foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, said.
With Australia imposing a travel ban on all visitors who have left or transited through mainland China from 1 February, the federal education minister Dan Tehan met with the Universities Australia Board to discuss ways to minimise the coronavirus outbreak’s impact on Australia’s tertiary education system.
Chinese students make up 38% of the international students in the country, and bring an estimated $12bn into the higher education system and in related spending.
“Our government will work to provide surety to students and academics whose visas are impacted by the Australian government’s response to the coronavirus,” Tehan said.
“The safety and wellbeing of all of our students, both in Australia and abroad, is foremost in our minds. The Australian community has welcomed international students to our country and they have become important members of our higher education sector and the local communities in which they live.”
Twelve cases of coronavirus have been reported in Australia.