The only family in the Christmas Island detention centre has been kept in the dark about the hundreds of Australians set to be evacuated from Wuhan and quarantined at the facility.
The Biloela family – Priya, Nadesalingam and their children, Kopika, four, and Tharunicaa, two – knew nothing about the government’s plan until it was contacted by someone in its support group, said family friend Angela Fredericks.
“They heard nothing,” she said.
“They still haven’t had anything or anyone approach them to date.
“It was someone in our support team who contacted them, who broke the news to them.”
She said they were completely blindsided by the revelation, and knew nothing about the virus.
“Priya was distraught. She had no idea what it would mean for her kids.”
Calling for the family to be urgently moved back to the mainland, Ms Fredericks said they were concerned the island’s limited medical facilities would not be equipped to deal with the influx of people, especially if some were infected.
“Priya ended up with injuries when she was man-handled during the deportation. They weren’t able to give her a CT scan because they don’t have adequate medical facilities there. How are they equipped if it breaks out?” Ms Fredericks said.
Christmas Island has one hospital, with less than 10 beds.
The centre has a small medical facility but is in poor shape, Ms Fredericks said.
“Priya was put in a room where there were rotting floorboards and she fell through. She fell up to her thigh,” she said.
Clinical virologist at the Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Ian Mackay said it was unclear if the facilities were equipped to deal with an outbreak.
“Quarantining healthy people who may go on to develop severe respiratory illness could put at risk their health and the health of those caring for and detaining them,” he said.
“It may even increase the number of cases, depending on the state of the facilities available to them and whether they are kept apart from each other.
“What remains unclear is whether the facility could manage severe disease and whether it will have enough expert medical professionals who are prepared for the infection control challenges presented by this respiratory virus.”
Residents on the island were also blindsided by the government’s announcement, and confusion has spread about how the quarantine will be handled.
“What about the 1000+ residents on Christmas Island?’ one resident wrote on Twitter.
“Infants, teens, elders who have been here for generations. We have history and culture here that we created. It would be sad to see it all go if our limited medical supplies can’t handle quarantine.”
Australians in Hubei province will have to pay up to $1000 for the privilege of being evacuated to the offshore detention centre, where they will spend 14 days in quarantine.
On Thursday Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said it was normal for evacuees to cover their own costs.
“People have to pay for a flight from China back to Australia. That’s, as I’m advised by DFAT, the normal way in which these things occur and that will be the limit of the contribution,” he said.
On Thursday, Qantas and the government were locked in talks about how the evacuation would work.
The airline’s biggest plane, a Boeing 747, can carry more than 350 people but is too big to land on the island.
The government was considering flying the evacuees to mainland Australia, potentially Perth, before transferring them to a military aircraft that would take them to Christmas Island.
“That’s all been rehearsed – the Army and Border Force have gone through all of that detail,” Mr Dutton said.
Australia has yet to receive official clearance from the Chinese government for the evacuation, but it is believed permission will be granted soon.