Australia is expected to extend travel bans for non-citizens who have transited through China for another week, as the COVID-19 virus death toll climbs to 1900 people and the evacuation of the Diamond Princess cruise ship is finalised.
Cabinet’s national security committee will consider the next steps by the weekend, with the ban likely to be extended until February 29.
More Australians on board the vessel docked off Japan were confirmed as carrying the virus on Wednesday night and were taken to hospital for treatment, forcing some families to abandon plans to join Qantas’ evacuation flights.
Before the new round of test results, 37 Australians had tested positive of the 220 onboard.
We were pushing our bags out when the call came with our test results from Monday’s sampling. Kaitlyn has tested positive. We will not be taking the flight tonight. Our family will stay together #hangintherediamondprincess #quarantine https://t.co/T9E4F2ygxm pic.twitter.com/P3euQqFXZH
— Aun Na Tan (@qtiepie) February 19, 2020
Qantas flight QF6302 was scheduled to pick up the passengers around 1am in Tokyo before they are flown to quarantine in Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the majority of those declining to go home on the evacuation flight wanted to stay to support family struck down by the deadly virus.
“The predominant reason for that is they are staying in many cases with family members who have actually contracted the virus and are receiving medical attention in Japan,” Mr Morrison said.
“But the good news is we will be bringing [the others] home today.”
More good news that today the next group of more than 30 people we helped get out of Wuhan left Christmas Island to head home, the last of those who were quarantined there. All of them have been declared free of Coronavirus. pic.twitter.com/SrYvQIflTB
— Scott Morrison (@ScottMorrisonMP) February 19, 2020
The PM has defended the decision to send the Australian tourists to the mainland on the grounds that the new group of passengers from the “hot zone” on the cruise ship are elderly and need to be closer to major hospitals.
The first group from China were sent to the Christmas Island detention centre.
The passengers aboard the Diamond Princess have already endured a fortnight in quarantine and face a further two weeks of confinement in Darwin because the quarantine measures on the vessel clearly haven’t stopped the spread of the disease.
#DiamondPrincess in Yokohama Port, Japan, releases 500 passengers who have no symptoms of #COVID19 infection. Japanese government sent shuttle buses to carry these passengers to the nearest transportation point. pic.twitter.com/PSgUrOPv1l
— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) February 19, 2020
Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge said the passengers would arrive as early as Thursday morning.
“About 15 people have decided to stay behind,” Mr Tudge said.
“The number of people boarding the plane is actually a figure higher than we had anticipated.
“I think we can see from what’s happened on the Diamond Princess, almost 20 per cent of people on that boat has become infected with the virus over the last two weeks. It is very infectious.”