DFAT’s ‘deadly’ error: How a simple change has left the government scrambling to find out where Australians are staying in China as Coronavirus cases surge
- Australians travelling abroad can no longer register on the Smartraveller website
- Feature was quietly removed in November, weeks before coronavirus outbreak
- DFAT revealed the system became redundant as very few Australians used it
Australians trapped in China amid a deadly coronavirus outbreak can no longer report their location to the government online after the registration feature was scrapped.
Residents who were travelling abroad were previously able to log their itinerary on the Smartraveller website allowing the government to keep track of their location and status in the event of an emergency.
But that option was quietly removed from the website on November 21, weeks before the first few cases of the potentially fatal illness were reported in China.
Passengers wear protective masks on arrival at Sydney International Airport in Sydney last week. Health authorities have been deployed to screen travellers for the Coronavirus
Residents who were travelling abroad were previously able to log their itinerary on the Smartraveller website allowing the government to keep track of their location and status in the event of an emergency
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade rolled out a new version of the website after the registration system apparently became redundant, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
DFAT revealed the most reliable information it received on Australians’ whereabouts and welfare in times of crisis over the years had come from relatives and friends, not the registry.
‘Very few Australians ever registered their details with us. The data we received was often incomplete or inaccurate. This delayed getting help to those in need,’ the website states.
‘The new system reflects this reality and allows us to focus on Australians most in need. Ultimately, we need to know who needs help, not who is safe and well.’
An estimated 100 Australians remain stranded in Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the outbreak, and have been advised to contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre.
Emma Wei, from Melbourne, is trapped in Wuhan with her two children amid China’s lockdown
An estimated 100 Australians remain stranded in Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the outbreak, and have been advised to contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade rolled out a new version of the website after the registration system apparently became redundant
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the government would look to assist Australians with travel out of China, with several cities in lockdown as authorities try to contain the virus.
‘We are seeking advice from the Chinese authorities on these restrictions and whether any options are available to international travellers,’ Senator Payne said.
‘Our embassy in Beijing and our consulate in Shanghai are also working with international partners and the Chinese government to determine what support can be given to Australians on the ground.’
So far, some 385 people have called an emergency helpline for those who may have family members in the impacted region of China, Senator Payne said on Monday.
As of late Monday, there have been five confirmed cases of the virus in Australia, with several more people being tested after showing symptoms.
The outbreak has so far killed 80 people in China and infected more than 2,750.
Coronavirus has been confirmed in other countries including Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, France, Malaysia and the United States.
Experts are still learning about the virus and Prof Murphy says it’s important people arriving from Wuhan, as well as those in close contact with them, look out for symptoms of fever, cough, sore throat, vomiting and difficulty breathing.
Australians are being told not to travel to Wuhan or Hubei province.