A second Qantas flight that was set to arrive in the Chinese city of Wuhan on Friday has been delayed, with hundreds of Australians waiting to be evacuated from the coronavirus epicentre.
- Melbourne teacher Hui Qiu and his family will be on the evacuation flight that was set to leave on Friday but has been pushed back by at least a day
- His wife and daughters became trapped in Wuhan after the lockdown announcement
- He was in a neighbouring city at the time, which also went into lockdown
The more than 300 Australians who remain trapped in the locked-down city were asked to register interest in a possible third assisted departure flight earlier this week.
Some of those still stuck in Wuhan were told they had a seat reserved on the Qantas flight set to depart later that day, subject to approval from Chinese authorities, but that evacuation was delayed.
An email from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) was sent to passengers telling them that official clearance for the flight had not been secured.
The email told passengers to return to where they were staying and wait for further information as DFAT worked with Chinese authorities to reschedule the flight for Saturday.
“As you had a previously confirmed seat/s on the aircraft this evening, your seat is confirmed for the next flight departing Wuhan, which we anticipate will depart on Saturday 8 February. Please only reply to this email if you no longer require the seat/s,” the email read.
“We know that this unexpected delay will cause stress and inconvenience, which we regret.”
When the evacuees do get out of China and touch down in Australia, they will be quarantined at an unused mining camp near Darwin.
Earlier this week, when the first plane landed on Christmas Island, reports highlighted that the conditions were alarming with accounts of a lack of hygiene and cockroaches in the rooms.
But mother of two Belinda Chen has since wanted to alert that there has been a change of heart and conditions were improving.
“I hope to let the world know, how great these volunteers are. They are helping us and living with us together,” she said.
“The conditions have improved and we appreciate the medical staffers and personnel who have volunteered to take care of us.”
Meanwhile, among those expected to be on the second plane out of Wuhan today is Melbourne teacher Hui Qiu, as well as his wife and two young daughters.
It will be the first time Mr Qiu has seen his loved ones in weeks, after the snap decision to place Wuhan in lockdown saw him cut off from his family in a neighbouring city.
‘Dad, please come back’
Mr Qiu was visiting his hometown Huanggang, a city around an hour’s drive from Wuhan, when the lockdown came into effect. His wife Ying was in the virus-struck city with their two daughters, staying with Mr Qiu’s elderly mother and father.
He tried to convince Ying to let him sneak back into Wuhan by taking a route through farm fields, but she insisted on him staying put in Huanggang because of the risk of contracting coronavirus.
Two days later, Huanggang also announced a lockdown, along with 12 other cities, leaving the family separated indefinitely.
Mr Qiu said he felt guilty being away from his family, especially when his children asked him during video chats when he would be back.
“My wife is taking care of my children by herself, and she has to overcome lots of difficulties in such circumstances,” Mr Qiu told the ABC.
Ms Qiu, the children and Mr Qiu’s parents have been stuck inside a small apartment, where food stocks are running low. And with a traffic ban in the city, public transport in the neighbourhood has been overwhelmed.
Meanwhile, supermarkets are quickly running out of supplies every day.
“[My father-in-law] bought some frozen dumplings, but we don’t know if they will have more stocks tomorrow,” Ms Qiu said.
“Our daughter used WeChat and said ‘Dad, please come back. I miss you’.”
The family found out last night that they had all been accepted for the latest Australian evacuation flight, and they now plan to meet at the airport.
Mr Qiu said his first words to his children will be: “Dad loves you.”
The ABC understands at least 20 families have received a confirmation email from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with their flight information.
Travel ban headaches
Other Australians who found themselves in China during the outbreak are struggling to get themselves and their loved ones home.
While they are not in Wuhan, Australian student Anthony Ange and his Chinese de facto partner Chelsea Yang have had their trip to China upended by Australia’s ban on foreign nationals entering from China.
The couple met at Macquarie University and live together in Sydney.
She brought him to her home city in central Shanxi province to meet her parents for the Lunar New Year well before the outbreak was widely reported.
Although Australian consular officials have said that foreign nationals who can provide proof that they are part of Australian families will be allowed in, he has been formally advised that Ms Yang is “unlikely” to be permitted to return to Australia.
In an email seen by the ABC, a consular official told Mr Ange documents he provided from September last year proving the couple live together in Sydney did not meet the Department of Home Affairs’ required time period for recognition as a de facto spouse.
Mr Ange said he was unwilling to leave his partner in China during the outbreak, and they were desperate to head home together.
“We even thought about getting legally married in China, but for that you have to go in person to the Australian embassy in Beijing,” he said.
“And we can’t travel because of the roadblocks and closed transportation at the moment,” he said.
Mr Ange said he was informally advised that the couple should spend 14 days in a third country before coming to Australia.
“They’re trying to protect the borders by letting in married couples but not de factos, it’s all very wishy-washy and creating a lot of confusion,” he said.
Emails seeking clarification of the policy to both Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s office and the Department were not answered.
Jeremy Fernandez will host a 30-minute special on coronavirus on Friday, February 7 from 7:30pm AEDT on News Channel, featuring a guest panel, explainers on how the virus unfolded and myth-busting the misinformation. The special will be repeated on ABC TV at 10:00pm.
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