“We are all Australian taxpayers,” said Cloe, who missed out on a flight and asked to be referred to only by her first name. “It is unfair for the Australian government to treat differently Australian citizens in the same situation.”
Families have expressed their frustration at being left behind after failing to get on the last flight out of Wuhan. Lily, who has two children hoping to get back to school, said her son would be forced to repeat year 12 if he could not return by April.
More than 100 Australian residents and citizens remain in Hubei. The Chinese government will not allow Australian permanent residents without a direct relation to an Australian citizen to board evacuation flights.
The Department of Foreign Affairs gave priority on the previous two Qantas flight to those it assessed as vulnerable, including the elderly, minors and those in short-term accommodation. Two separate wait-lists were exhausted before spare seats were given to students from the Pacific Islands on Saturday’s flight.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have confirmed that up to a dozen unaccompanied minors are among those still stuck in Hubei.
The Chinese government has rejected a request to allow some of the children to travel with their grandparents to Australia as they do not hold Australian citizenship or residency. The Australian government has considered sending parents to collect their children and offers had also been made privately by other Australians in Hubei to take the children with them prior to Saturday’s evacuation.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said it was a difficult situation for the parents and children involved. “The children remain with family and are being well cared for,” she said.
Australians who arrived for two weeks of quarantine at the Darwin mining camp on Sunday thanked the government and praised the facilities.
“It feels a bit like summer camp,” said Aoao, who also asked to be referred to only by her first name. “Children like it very much. They don’t need to go to school.”
Chinese-Australian teacher Wang Minhua said the Darwin staff “treated us as if they were treating loved ones” and that had made her “respect them so much”. More than 270 people are quarantined at the Christmas Island detention centre and 266 at the Darwin mining camp.
The extension of the travel ban, which is not expected to be formally announced until Saturday and could last another fortnight, will rattle the university sector as it prepares for lectures to begin without tens of thousands of students. Orientation Week at many universities is due to start on February 24.
Up to 56 per cent of the Chinese international student cohort at Australia’s top universities remain overseas, including 65,000 from the Group of Eight, which includes Monash, the University of Sydney and the University of Melbourne.
Online courses, delaying the start of semester, quarantining and asking students to self-isolate away from the rest of the student population are all on the table as the sector grapples with the economic fallout of the epidemic.
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said on Saturday he had been in regular contact with Universities Australia and had been “exploring solutions to lessen the impact on their education”.
The Chinese government has expressed frustration with the travel ban and urged countries not to over-react. Meanwhile, the fallout from the virus continues to rattle multinational companies as supply chains freeze up.
Kia Motors announced it would suspend its three car manufacturing sites in South Korea on Monday, joining fellow auto-giant Hyundai in halting its production.
Chinese workers in Shanghai on Beijing were told to go back to work this week after the Lunar New Year but the streets remain desolate as employees and companies opt to reduce their exposure to the virus.
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra