Australians stranded in the desolate and disease-stricken city of Wuhan could be waiting until next week to be rescued.
The Chinese city is the epicentre of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, which has already killed 170 people and infected nine Australians.
Diplomatic chaos is now threatening to leave 600 Australians stranded in the danger zone for days to come, as fears swell that the disease will soon be a global pandemic.
Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton confirmed the high-stakes process of rescuing Australian citizens is underway – but no flights are yet confirmed.
China has gone into lockdown (pictured) as millions try to flee the deadly coronavirus, including around 600 Australian citizens
WHAT IS THE RESCUE PLAN?
Australian authorities are organising for a charter flight to collect citizens from Hubei province
The elderly, children and tourists will be given priority seats on the flight – which will cost $1,000 per person
They will be flown to an RAAF base – probably in Darwin – before being transferred to Christmas Island
On the island they will spend two weeks in a detention centre undergoing tests
If they are cleared, they will be flown to Perth – from where they will have to make their own way home
‘DFAT has been in conversation with the people’, he told Today.
‘There are roughly about 600 or so Australian citizens who have registered with DFAT.
‘Different conversations are taking place but there needs to be clearance from the Chinese authorities and DFAT is in discussion with Qantas and the Chinese government at the moment.’
He admitted many Australians do not want to go to Christmas Island, the off-shore detention centre where they would be quarantined for at least two weeks.
Many are refusing to go to the Indian Ocean island, amid fears the facilities are not safe for young children – and could even help spread the disease.
Terrified families have even been told they will have to fork out $1,000 per person for the flight – even for young children.
Emma Wei (pictured), from Melbourne, is trapped in Wuhan with her two children amid the deadly outbreak
Speaking on Today, Peter Dutton (pictured) admits that Australians in virus epicentre could be waiting for days to be rescued
The hefty fee doesn’t even include domestic transportation, meaning the families will be forced to pay again to get themselves home from an RAAF station in Perth.
And if they take the rescue flight, they have no choice but to spend two weeks in quarantine in the Christmas Island detention centre.
‘Now, some of them will want to come,’ Mr Dutton continued.
‘Some will decide to stay with family. Not many will want to go to Christmas Island.’
He explained the government’s plan is to fly the evacuees to an RAAF base in Australia before shuttling them to Christmas Island.
Daniel Ou Yang (pictured) is trapped at ground zero of the coronavirus in Wuhan and is desperate to get home to Sydney to see his girlfriend and get back to his real estate business
It comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was ‘moving very, very swiftly’ in a ‘rather limited window’.
While the government now has permission from Bejiing to charter a flight out of Hubei province, the specifics are still being discussed – which could take several days.
The Government has China’s permission for a charter flight out of Hubei and Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australian diplomats would meet with Chinese authorities to talk about the specifics on Thursday.
More than 600 Australians have registered themselves as being in the disease-stricken area.
Priority will be given to the elderly and children, as well as tourists to the area instead of long-time residents.
The streets on Wuhan, the epicentre of China’s deadly virus, are empty as the city is forced into lockdown (pictured)
New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders will also be offered seats on the flight.
But after the rescue flight leaves, it’s unlikely a second will ever arrive.
Xu Yi, a father from Melbourne, whose baby daughter Chloe is Wuhan, is one of many Australians worried about the controversial rescue plan.
‘Being quarantined at the detention centre may not be a plan that suits my family,’ Mr Xu told the ABC.
Helen Chen (pictured), a student at ANU, said she’s worried but has tried to keep herself busy with university assignments while trapped inside her Wuhan family home
‘My daughter is only six months old. I am very concerned about the medical facilities and hygiene condition of the detention centre.’
Wenbo Yu from Adelaide, whose wife and two children are in Wuhan, said his family was also likely to reject the evacuation plan.
‘We’d rather they stay in Wuhan,’ he said.
‘Compared to Wuhan, we believe Christmas Island is even more unpredictable.’
Sydney mother Liu, who is also in Wuhan, said she was being made to feel like a ‘prisoner’, and even her own daughter asked if they had ‘done something wrong’.
Face masks are being work to work, to shop and all around the streets in Sydney’s Cabramatta (pictured) after nine people in Australia became infected
‘We are not prisoners, how could they treat us in a detention centre rather than a proper medical facility?’ Ms Liu asked.
But Mr Dutton explained there was no other suitable quarantine facilities available, and he was unable to ‘clear out’ hospitals on the Australian mainland.
‘The reality is people need to be accommodated somewhere for up to 14 days,’ Mr Dutton told reporters.
‘I don’t have a facility otherwise that we can quickly accommodate for what might be many hundreds of people and Christmas Island is purpose-built for exactly this scenario.
There have been nine confirmed cases of coronavirus so far in Australia (pictured), with four confirmed in Sydney, three in Victoria and two in Queensland
CORONAVIRUS IN AUSTRALIA
Nine people in Australia have the coronavirus, as the government works to evacuate hundreds of citizens from China’s danger zone.
These are the latest Australian figures on the coronavirus outbreak:
* Nine people have contracted the virus after travelling to Australia from Hubei province in central China.
* The tally is four in NSW, three in Victoria and two in Queensland. Two of the NSW victims are no longer infectious and were discharged from hospital on Thursday. The others are all stable.
* The latest case is a 42-year-old Chinese woman who travelled from Wuhan to the Gold Coast via Melbourne. She is now in isolation in a Gold Coast hospital.
* China’s women’s soccer team, which includes 32 players and staff, remains in isolation at a Brisbane hotel after arriving on Wednesday.
* The federal government plans to evacuate Australians from the Hubei capital of Wuhan after about 600 citizens and residents registered for help to get out. China must approve the plan.
* They will be flown to Christmas Island and put in quarantine for two weeks.
* The federal health department has issued new advice amid evidence the virus has been spread by people before they develop any symptoms.
* Anyone who has recently been to Hubei or had contact with a confirmed case must isolate themselves at home for 14 days from the date of their departure.
* Some 170 people have died from the virus in mainland China, and the number of confirmed cases is now more than 7000. Most of the deaths have been in Hubei.
* Some major airlines have halted all flights to China, but so far Qantas is not among them.
* The virus is now affecting most of Australia’s regional neighbours including Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam and Cambodia.
* The Australian government is advising people to reconsider travel to China and not go to Hubei province.
(Sources: China’s National Health Commission, Australian Chief Medical Officer and state chief health officers)
‘I can’t clear out a hospital in Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane.’
Amid other Australian citizens trapped in Wuhan is Emma Wei, from Melbourne, who is stranded with her two children.
A Canberra university student revealed she hasn’t been outside in more than a week to protect herself from the deadly coronavirus which has shut off the Chinese city from the rest of the world.
Helen Chen, a student at ANU, says she’s worried but has tried to keep herself busy with university assignments while trapped inside her Wuhan family home for one-week.
‘The last time I went out was probably a week ago, I wore a mask, and most people were wearing masks,’ she told Reuters.
‘And when my parents went out this morning to do groceries they wore masks as well, I made sure they brought hand sanitisers and they wore gloves, just to be extra careful.’
It comes as China’s coronavirus death toll hits 170 and the World Health Organisation declares a global health emergency.
Speaking to reporters, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: ‘The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries.
‘Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to countries with weaker health systems, and which are ill-prepared to deal with it.’
Russia, which has no cases of the virus, is closing its 2,600-mile border with China, joining Mongolia and North Korea in barring crossings to guard against the outbreak.
Train traffic between the countries was halted except for one train connecting Moscow and Beijing, but air traffic between the two countries continued.
On Thursday Israel banned all incoming flights from China and 6,000 people in Italy were prevented from leaving a cruise ship while tests were carried out on a passenger from Macau.
The number of confirmed cases is now more than 7,000.
Most of the deaths have been in Hubei.
NSW Health advice states that people are at risk of catching the virus if they spent 15 minutes in close contact, such as a face-to-face conversation, or two hours in the same confined space.
Chinese health authorities have confirmed that, contrary to earlier belief, patients are contagious even before they develop symptoms.
A passenger wearing a protective mask (pictured) is seen at Sydney Airport last Thursday getting off the last flight to Australia from Wuhan before they were shut down
On Monday, it was confirmed that a 21-year-old University of NSW student who arrived on a different MU749 flight was infected.
The university told students in an email that she became unwell soon after her flight and isolated herself in her on-campus dorm room for 24 hours before going to hospital.
The second Melbourne patient landed on January 21, though it is not clear which flight he was on, and wasn’t diagnosed until Wednesday.
The man in his 60s went to hospital two days later but was allowed out of isolation to celebrate Australia Day with his family.
Several people have been taken to hospitals in Sydney (pictured) to be tested for the disease