Australians evacuated from the coronavirus epicentre of Wuhan say they have been greeted with cockroaches in their bedrooms and poor internet connections on their first night of quarantine on Christmas Island.
- Multiple evacuees say hygiene standards at the detention centre are poor
- One family says they found a cockroach in their bedroom among other insects
- Many are worried about shared spaces and the risk of infected people spreading the virus
There are 240 Australian citizens and permanent residents currently being housed in the island’s detention centre, among them 84 children under 16 and five infants under two.
Photos sent to the ABC by evacuee Belinda Chen, who is at the centre with two of her children, showed a cockroach on the floor of their room.
She said she was concerned about poor hygiene standards at the detention centre, and that her children were “too scared to touch their beds”.
“The hygiene issues make it worse than a prison,” Ms Chen said.
“I understood that there would be very limited facilities here, but the actual condition is no facilities at all.
“It’s thousands of times worse than I imagined.”
Another family told the ABC the cot provided for their infant was unclean, and that their bedsheets appeared to be unwashed.
However, others said hygiene conditions were “acceptable” in parts of the compound. One evacuee named Jim described it as being “better than camping”, and said his bedroom was “very simple but clean”.
“Except the shared bathroom, everything else is okay,” he said.
Evacuee Kai Zhang told the ABC conditions were “not very good, but still acceptable”.
“The only thing I’m not used to is the food here, it’s not very ideal for us. I hope with more staff to follow up our conditions, this can be improved,” he said.
Photos obtained by the ABC show some families appear to have bunk beds in their rooms, with minibar fridges and air conditioning units. The bathrooms appear to have metal toilets with plastic lids.
Some parents said they had to remain in specific areas of the centre, where they shared bathrooms and play equipment with other families housed in the same compound.
“I felt sick when I walked into the bathroom, there were bugs and flies everywhere,” Ms Chen said.
“The content on the page looks really nice, but the library and gym are not available to us,” said another evacuee who only want to be known as Helen.
“It looks completely different from what the Government showed us in their photos.”
Meanwhile, Sydney resident Gloria Zeng said she didn’t expect “too much” of the detention centre so she wasn’t too disappointed.
“But I saw people who have high expectations are complaining,” she said.
“The courtyard is big for the kids to run around but there is no sunscreen.”
She said staff at the detention centre had created a welcome painting at the entrance and were treating children and the elderly well.
A flyer in simplified Chinese given to evacuees ahead of their arrival at Christmas Island said, “Welcome home” and that the detention centre would provide “every facility and service” they needed during their stay.
“It has secure and hygienic accommodation, food and beverage, medical facilities, internet, canteen, library, gym, sport facilities, prayer room and many other spaces for your activities, including an outdoor recreation area,” it said.
“We also provide appropriate food, furniture and toys for young children and infants.”
‘Worse than self-isolation’
The ABC asked evacuees for further photographic evidence, however limited internet access on the island made this difficult.
Some evacuees have little to no mobile reception or internet on the island. One parent said the only area with Wi-Fi coverage was the detention facility’s office.
Evacuees said they were given a $10 credit for the centre’s public phones, in case they needed to call a doctor late at night if needed.
However, they said nobody answered when they called the phone number provided last night.
Many of the evacuees said they were worried about the risk of contracting coronavirus in the centre, due to multiple family groups sharing the same bathrooms and other public facilities.
“It feels like we are a group of animals,” one evacuee said, adding that they thought self-isolation at home would be a more effective form of quarantine.
“It’s even more dangerous than staying in Wuhan, it is life-threatening conditions here, it is worse than self-isolation in Wuhan.”
Despite the complaints, Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt defended the choice of Christmas Island as the site for evacuees.
“We think it was the right decision for the right reasons. It’s provided confidence to the country,” he told reporters.
“What we have been able to do is set up in just a couple of days the support needed for these people.
“The AUSMAT [Australian Medical Assistance Teams] was deployed straight up.
“The work was done over the weekend to continue to complete the establishment of a mobile medical facility.”
The ABC has approached the Department of Home Affairs for comment on the allegations, but they did not respond by publication time.
A second evacuation flight from Wuhan with Australians on board was expected to leave the virus-struck city tonight but will head to New Zealand first.
The Air New Zealand flight will also be taking 70 New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders, with Australian passengers to be transferred home on a dedicated flight after landing in Auckland.
The global death toll from the coronavirus outbreak hit 426 on Tuesday, 425 of which occurred in China, while the total number of cases reached 20,438.
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