News National Plans under way to evacuate Australians from Diamond Princess

Plans under way to evacuate Australians from Diamond Princess

A bus leaves the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship at Yokohama, Japan. Photo: Getty
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Australia is preparing to evacuate 200 citizens on board the Diamond Princess to Darwin, as another 70 passengers were confirmed as infected with coronavirus.

It comes the same day the first group of Australians quarantined on Christmas Island will be let home. Despite the convenient timing, however, government sources have told The New Daily that the island is not the destination for the new group of evacuees.

A workers’ camp near Darwin at Howard Springs is being considered, partly because it has better access to fresh fruit and vegetables and better wi-fi while passengers are confined.

Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed on Monday that planning for the evacuation was advanced.

“We are planning a potential operation to bring them home,” Mr Hunt told the Seven network.

“Many of these patients or passengers on the ship are very elderly and may need to be near major hospital facilities,” he said.

By early Monday, all US passengers on board the ship had disembarked to take charter flights out of Japan.

Passengers wearing masks could later be seen waving through the windows of buses parked near the ship.

Canadian, Italian, South Korean and Hong Kong passengers were expected to follow, after their governments also announced plans to repatriate passengers.

A senior Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) officer will board the cruise ship on Monday to assess conditions in preparation for evacuation of the Aussies on board.

National Security Committee of Cabinet met on Sunday to work out how authorities could help the remaining passengers under quarantine. It’s expected the Australians will be out of Yokohama within the next 48 hours.

Diamond Princess is now the epicentre of the biggest outbreak of the virus outside of China, with 355 passengers on board who have tested positive, including 24 Australians, taken to Japanese hospitals for treatment.

It’s likely a charter flight will be used to transport the passengers who have not tested positive to Darwin, where they will be quarantined for another fortnight and kept under medical supervision.

The cruise ship remains in quarantine in Yokohama. Photo: Getty

Australian officials also emailed passengers on board confirming evacuation plans were being actively considered.

“You may have already seen the news that the US government is planning to assist US passengers on the Diamond Princess to return to the United States in the coming days,” the email said.

“We understand the US Embassy will send out information to US passengers on the ship about their plans shortly.”

“The Australian government is also examining options to assist Australians on board the ship. We will contact you again as soon as any decision is taken.

“We understand this is a very stressful situation for you on the ship. Please be assured we are working hard to assist all Australian passengers and your welfare is our paramount concern.”

The New Daily understands Howard Springs is the preferred option to house the evacuees. Currently, there are already 266 people in quarantine at the facility near Darwin.

Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said the AUSMAT officer will assess those on board to help determine the next steps.

“We will be looking at the health and welfare of that group and what might be best done with a view to getting them off the ship,” Professor Kelly told reporters in Canberra on Saturday.

“We wait for our expert to be on the ground to assess what is the best option for those Australians.”

The US began the evacuation of its citizens early Sunday and Hong Kong is arranging a chartered flight to take its residents home.

At home, a risk assessment of every cruise ship arrival into Sydney is being conducted under the supervision of NSW’s chief human biosecurity officer and the chief health officer.

The likely evacuation of the Australians on board the Diamond Princess neatly coincides with the departure of more than 200 Australians who have been quarantined on Christmas Island for two weeks.

No quarantined Australians at Christmas Island and Darwin have tested positive for the virus, with the first group of evacuees due to return home on Monday.

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