Families separated by the quarantines at Christmas Island have finally reunited some two weeks after 241 Australians were evacuated from the coronavirus epicentre and held at repurposed detention facilities.
The 206 travellers who were isolated in quarantine on Christmas Island have spent their first night at home following 14 days of intense monitoring of coronavirus symptoms.
The 35 remaining Australians are expected to board a charter flight home on Wednesday after being given the all-clear by health authorities.
Describing herself as “lucky”, Catherine Chen said the one month she spent away from her husband – two weeks in Hubei then two weeks at Christmas Island – felt like “a really long time”.
The childcare operator from Western Australia had no idea when she would see her partner again, recalling the stress of witnessing all flights out of the Chinese province being canceled.
With her two children, Ms Chen was finally able to return to Geraldton on Monday and despite a “beautiful” experience on Christmas Island, she told the ABC “I’m really glad we will be able to go home now”.
“We were really happy to be there. And my kids made new friends, they didn’t want to come back.”
Melissa Wang, too, had a “really positive” experience on the island, but felt “so exhausted it’s kind of just a relief” to be returning home, she said upon disembarking in Sydney.
“I was expecting a detention centre, and that’s what it was, but did not expect the warmth of the people,” Ms Wang told AAP.
Father-of-two Jim (surname withheld) said his biggest concern upon returning to Melbourne was that he would not be welcomed back.
“It is all right for adults, but it will be quite bad for kids if they are discriminated against,” he told the ABC.
The 200 Australians still stuck on the coronavirus-contaminated cruise ship Diamond Princess won’t have the same luxury of returning home.
Due to the number of confirmed cases on board – so far totaling 450 – they will need to undergo another two weeks in quarantine and were given the option of evacuating to an unused workers site near Darwin.
Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said precautions had to be taken.
“Given there has been recent cases, we cannot be absolutely sure that any of the currently-well people on the ship who are coming home on Wednesday are not carrying the virus,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison sympathised with the Australians stuck on the ship, saying he understood they would be frustrated at the thought of another two weeks in quarantine.
“It’s frustrating and it’s unfortunate, but it is absolutely necessary to ensure that we put the measures in place that have been so effective in containing the spread of this virus,” he said.
The Australians on board must pass a coronavirus test before they can be brought home, and elderly people will be given priority in the evacuation.
Wednesday’s flight will also include New Zealanders, who will be transferred home after landing in Darwin.
There have been 15 cases of COVID-19 in Australia, with eight people now recovered and the rest in a stable condition.
There are now more than 69,200 cases worldwide, with 1670 reported deaths.