A charter flight evacuating the first group of Australian citizens from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, has arrived on Christmas Island.
Of the more than 240 evacuees repatriated from China’s Wuhan, 72 people on board the first of the four Qantas flights bound for Christmas Island landed on Tuesday morning.
As passengers exited the plane, they were shuffled into four small buses and taken to a repurposed immigration centre on the Indian Ocean Island for two weeks of quarantine and monitoring.
Members of the Australian Army alongside medics from specialist crisis team Ausmat were there to meet the evacuated men, women and children on the tarmac, The Australian reports.
All those aboard the flight already had face masks on to prevent the virus, which has killed 361 people globally, from spreading.
Of the 243 passengers who have been evacuated out of Wuhan, 89 people are under the age of 16 and five are younger than two.
The Qantas flight that arrived at the Learmonth base about 4 pm local time on Monday was delayed six hours.
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said the plan was for passengers to be isolated in small family groups on Christmas Island.
“There won’t be a full mingling,” he said in Canberra on Monday.
“If someone does get unwell their family might have to start again for 14 days but we wouldn’t want to expose the whole group to that.”
Australia followed the US in issuing a travel warning against going to China and barring entry to foreigners recently in China.
That drew a flurry of criticism from Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying who accused Washington of spreading panic.
She pointed out, in her address to reporters, that World Health Organization (WHO) had advised against trade and travel curbs.
“It is precisely developed countries like the United States with strong epidemic prevention capabilities and facilities that have taken the lead in imposing excessive restrictions contrary to WHO recommendations,” she said.
Ms Chunying urged for countries to make reasonable, calm and science-based judgments.
Foreign travellers who have left or passed through China will be denied entry to Australia to limit the spread of the virus.
It joined Singapore, New Zealand and Vietnam in announcing the travel restrictions, with numerous other nations busy evacuating citizens.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, more than 2500 mainly hospital workers went on strike to demand the country close their border to arrivals from China.
❗️BREAKING Corona-Virus Attacks HK❗️Just now a passenger pass outed on bus No.38 in Tung Chung, passengers in the bus will go direct to #Coronarivus isolation center. CITY OUTBREAK is happening in #HongKong , while CARRIE LAM still refuses to shut down the borders🇨🇳🦠😭 pic.twitter.com/9ITHOgGIbU
— BabyLRocks🇭🇰 (@babylrocks1) February 2, 2020
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the government would “consider what might be necessary” when asked if a second flight would be organised from Wuhan.
After just 10 days, the Chinese city has finished construction on a 1000-bed emergency hospital, with the first patients arriving at the Huoshenshan Hospital at 10 am on Monday, according to state media.
The ruling Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, sent 1,400 doctors, nurses and other personnel to staff the Wuhan hospital, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The government said earlier some have experience fighting SARS and other outbreaks.
The Huoshenshan Hospital was built by a 7,000-member crew of carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other specialists.
A second facility with 1,500 beds is due to open later this week.