News People ‘It’s very unfair’: Trapped Aussies who missed out on Wuhan evacuation flights

‘It’s very unfair’: Trapped Aussies who missed out on Wuhan evacuation flights

trapped australians wuhan virus
Siblings Orla and Orli in the protective clothing and masks they wear if they step out in coronavirus-stricken Wuhan. Photo: ABC/Supplied
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It’s been 19 days since Australian Shirley Xiang, her husband Tony Chen and their three children, Christopher, 10, Summer, 4, and Matthew 2, became trapped in an apartment in Wuhan.

So far they have managed to isolate themselves from the coronavirus. But now they are running out of food.

They are running out of hope, too. Hope that they will be rescued by the Australian government.

Australia has evacuated more than 500 of its citizens out of Wuhan, the epicentre of the deadly outbreak, with the first cohort under quarantine on Christmas Island and the second touching down in Darwin on Sunday.

Despite several stranded Australians registering their details with the government, many said they were not notified of departing flights and were left behind.

Now, families like Ms Xiang’s have been told there are no more flights on the horizon.

The ABC has seen emails from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade telling families there were “no plans currently for any more Australian government assisted departure flights”.

“As the Prime Minister has said, Australians should not rely on further assisted departure from Wuhan or mainland China,” the email states.

“We encourage you to continue to follow the advice of local authorities in China, and monitor the Smartraveller website.”

Ms Xiang, whose husband Mr Chen is a permanent resident, said she was desperate to get out, but did not get a chance to board the initial flight despite alerting the Australian government to her presence in Wuhan.

“We don’t mind being quarantined in the difficult environment on Christmas Island, but we didn’t get a chance for the next flight at all,” she said.

“Now they told us there won’t be a third flight for evacuation. It is very unfair that the [Australian] government decided to not evacuate my children.

“I think the government should treat every citizen and permanent resident fairly.”

The ABC understands that at least 13 Australian children, along with two infants who are waiting for their citizenship, are still in the locked-down city with their families – stuck in the centre of a raging virus that has already killed more than 1000 people in mainland China.

In January, China placed Wuhan under total lockdown, but the death toll has continued to climb, already surpassing the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak.

There are also more than 43,000 confirmed cases of the flu-like infection in the country.

Two Qantas-operated flights, and one in co-operation with New Zealand, evacuated more than 500 Australians out of Wuhan.

Ms Xiang said she thought the Australian government would put children on the plane as a priority, but received an email telling her there were no seats on the second flight last weekend.

Many of the families left behind are running out of essentials such as food, nappies and baby formula, leaving them no alternative but to venture out.

australians trapped wuhan virus
Summer, Christopher and Matthew are among the Australian children still stuck in Wuhan. Photo: ABC/Supplied

Families feeling ‘helpless and hopeless’

Xuefen Zhou and her family of eight, with five Australian citizens and three permanent residents, had also been hoping they would be evacuated.

Her three children, Orla, 5, Orli, 4, (both pictured below) and Oaklyn, 2, are Australian citizens.

Making things worse is the fact that two of the children’s Chinese visas are going to expire in March.

Ms Zhou told the ABC that when DFAT contacted her about the first flight out to Christmas Island, she and her husband were in self-quarantine and didn’t want to risk potentially infecting other passengers.

She said her family would be happy to join a later flight after the 14-day quarantine (which ended on Monday), but was told there were no more government-assisted flights planned.

“We live in fear every day,” Ms Zhou said.

“We are scared that our children, parents and ourselves will contract the coronavirus.”

Wenjing Chu, another Australian who is trapped in Wuhan with her children, Chengyao, 4, and Chengzhe, 2, said she had seats booked on the second flight out, but injured herself and was unable to walk for two days.

australians trapped wuhan virus
Australian siblings Chengzhe, 2, and Chengyao, 4, are stuck in Wuhan. Photo: ABC/Supplied

Ms Chu missed the flight and contacted DFAT to apply for a place on the next plane back to Australia, but was told there were no more planned evacuations.

She said the government did not understand how difficult it was for families with young children.

“We can’t see an end of the coronavirus epidemic here,” Ms Chu said.

“If my child fell sick, hospitals in Wuhan won’t accept us because they are full. We really want to go back.”

The US government evacuated more than 800 passengers from Wuhan, including US citizens, their immediate family members and lawful permanent residents, according to a spokesperson from the US embassy and consulates in China.

New Zealand evacuated 98 New Zealanders, and also gave spare seats to people from 12 countries – including 35 from Australia, 17 from Timor Leste and 17 from Papua New Guinea, according to a spokesperson from New Zealand’s Parliament.

According to Reuters, Singapore has evacuated 266 people in two flights from Wuhan. The country’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, said last Monday in Parliament that the government “will not leave” any Singaporean behind.

Australian citizen Mel, 39, who did not want to use her real name, and her mother, an Australian permanent resident, said they did not understand why they did not deserve to be evacuated.

The Melbourne resident said her mother was going to run out of medication soon. The 69-year-old has also developed severe insomnia.

“There are lots of problems and uncertainty if the [Australian] government is leaving us here,” Mel said.

“We feel helpless and hopeless now.

“We hope our government won’t leave us behind.”

DFAT did not respond to the ABC’s requests for comment by deadline.