The daunting prospect of spending two weeks isolated on Christmas Island could see Australians reject an offer to be evacuated from the coronavirus epicentre.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Wednesday plans to remove more than 600 Australians trapped in China’s Hubai province on a Qantas flight as the virus continues to spread.
But the government’s proposal that requires evacuees to be quarantined on the island in the middle of the Indian Ocean for up to 14 days is making stranded families reconsider their options.
People wearing facemasks to help stop the spread of a deadly virus which began in the city, wait for medical attention at Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan on January 25
Sydney physiotherapist Bon Lee has been in Hubei province since January 23 with his wife and 12-month old daughter.
He is now uncertain if his family will board the Qantas flight out of ‘ground zero’.
‘I think it is great the government has reached out to have a proper plan, it’s important for the safety for everyone. But Christmas Island for 14 days is a long time,’ he told The Sydney Morning Herald.
‘It’s a drastic measure’.
Christmas Island, an Australian territory 2600km north-west of Perth, is the site of a the counrty’s immigration detention centre.
‘Vulnerable’ Australians, including children and the elderly, would be evacuated to Christmas Island (pictured)
The rescue operation will be performed in partnership with the New Zealand government on a ‘last in, first out’ basis, with priority given to those that are ‘isolated and vulnerable’, such as infants and the elderly.
Australian Daniel Ou Yang, 21, is now stuck in Wuhan, where he was visiting family at the time of the outbreak.
While he wants to head home to Sydney to see his girlfriend and get back to his real estate business, he is unsure about the living conditions on Christmas Island if he’s evacuated there.
‘Will I be treated as an Australian or as a detainee? I am in their hands and can only hope it will go smoothly,’ he told AAP from his family’s home in Wuhan.
‘I know we would be kept in the detention centre and the treatment of detainees is not the best.’
Mr Yang found out about the evacuation through friends messaging him news articles after the announcement was made, but said he has not heard from the government in four days.
Australia is seeking permission from Chinese authorities to allow its citizens to depart Wuhan. Pictured is a coronavirus patient in a Wuhan hospital
Morrison said evacuees would be held in quarantine for 14 days on Christmas Island, known for its notorious immigration detention centre used to detain asylum seekers
Even if Mr Yang decides to travel there, he is unsure if he will be able to board the flight as he falls outside of the government’s priority list.
Former Hubei resident Cheng Chen said many in Wuhan may be deterred from seeking help by the Christmas Island proposition.
‘It’s going to be very hard for them to return to normal life. I doubt many people will get on the flight but it depends on how desperate they are,’ he said.
Qantas has offered to help but Australia and New Zealand requires China’s permission to send in planes
Qantas has offered to help to Australia and New Zealand but the countries need China’s permission before sending in a chartered plane, which is yet to be granted.
Mr Morrison said he could not guarantee multiple journeys or that the operation would succeed.
‘I stress there is rather a limited window here and we are moving very, very swiftly to ensure we can put this plan together and put the operation together,’ he said.
‘I also want to stress very clearly that we may not be in a position if we’re able to do this on one occasion to do it on another occasion.’
Japan rescued its citizens on Tuesday, while South Korea will charter a plane into Wuhan on Thursday.
The federal government is making one million masks available for patients and health workers at general practices where somebody has come forward with coronavirus symptoms.
Australia has also upgraded its official travel advice, urging people to reconsider all travel to China.
China has confirmed there are now more than 6000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 132 deaths.
The official number of Australian cases rose to seven on Wednesday, with authorities expecting additional cases to be reported in the near future.
Japan rescued its citizens on Tuesday, while South Korea will charter a plane into Wuhan on Thursday (a U.S government chartered plane from Wuhan pictured arriving in Alaska on Monday)