Security staff at Australia’s international airports are threatening to walk off the job if bosses don’t let them wear masks.
Hundreds of security workers fear they will catch the deadly coronavirus by coming into close contact with passengers landing from China.
They say they want to wear protective masks but have been stopped by their bosses over fears they will alarm travellers.
Security staff at Australia’s international airports are threatening to walk off the job if bosses don’t let them wear masks (stock image)
Flight attendants wear protective face masks at Brisbane International Airport on 31 January
The United Workers Union has threatened to ‘ground every flight in the country’ by telling security workers to strike if their demands are not met.
The union says that some workers who demanded masks have been threatened with disciplinary action.
It also claims that Sydney Airport workers employed by Securitas do not have enough soap to wash their hands and the company is refusing to hand out more.
Neva Woolmer of the United Workers Union warned workers may be forced to strike.
‘Staff are hoping it will not come to that but their health and safety is very important to them,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
A spokesman added: ‘If the health and safety needs of these workers are not met, United Workers Union will direct members to cease work even if it means grounding every flight in the country.’
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Securitas and Sydney Airport for comment.
Flight attendants wear protective face masks at Brisbane International Airport on 31 January
Passengers wear protective face masks at Brisbane International Airport on 31 January
It comes as two patients with coronavirus have been released in New South Wales as seven people remain hospitalised around Australia.
The patients, who were treated at Westmead Hospital in Sydney, have safely recovered and are no longer infectious.
Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed their release in a press conference on Friday afternoon – as he ruled out banning flights from China to Australia.
Flat-out: Exhausted health professionals in the Chinese province of Hubei where the coronavirus is spreading
Members of a medical team prepare to leave for Wuhan in Hubei Province on 27 January to help treat patients
He said: ‘We still have two in New South Wales that are being treated here at Westmead Hospital. The other two that were being housed here have been released after it was determined that they were medically clear to go home.’
Mr Hunt also said that preparations are under way on Christmas Island which will house Australian citizens who request to be evacuated from Wuhan, where the virus was first detected on 12 December.
There are around 600 still in China’s Hubei province – but it is not known how many will request evacuation.
‘I have spoken with the director of the National Critical Care and Trauma Centre this morning and he has confirmed they have a team of 24 and the first members of those will arrive today,’ he said.
Ministers do not yet know when Australians can be evacuated from China because negotiations are still ongoing with Beijing.
The plan is to fly them to Christmas Island off WA and keep them quarantined until they are safe to return to the Australian mainland.
Up to 49,000 people land on flights from China per week but Australian Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said there were no plans to stop the planes.
He said: ‘The World Health Organization strongly recommends that nations do not ban flights from China because unless you lockdown exit from the country, banning direct flights, doesn’t stop people coming from China.
‘They could come from all sorts of other ports and at least we know who is coming from China and we can meet and do very intensive border measures for those flights.’
Meanwhile, there are fears thousands of people could have been exposed to the coronavirus in Australia by the country’s nine confirmed patients alone.
Four people in Sydney, three in Melbourne, and two on the Gold Coast have been struck down with the deadly virus in recent weeks.
Each one flew in from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak began, on planes packed with hundreds of potential victims.
At least a day passed after they arrived before they developed flu-like symptoms and eventually went to hospital.
A passenger wearing a protective mask (pictured) is seen at Sydney Airport on Thursday, getting off the last flight to Australia from Wuhan before they were shut down
Mission evacuate: How will Christmas Island plan work?
The executive director of the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre, Professor Len Notaras said the doctors, nurses and allied health officials being sent to Christmas Island were of the ‘highest calibre’ and were being drawn from every state and territory.
A demountable hospital will be set up including diagnostic and protective equipment and negative pressure facilities.
However, Prof Notaras told reporters in Darwin it was important to note those people who will be placed in isolation were not sick at this stage and would likely not become sick.
He said they would not be held in detention, although their movements would be restricted.
Should any begin to show symptoms or become seriously ill the medical team on the island would make the initial call on their continued treatment.
Anyone who became critically ill would likely be repatriated to Australia, possibly to WA or to a hospital close to where they live, Prof Notaras said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia’s actions were driven by medical advice, and the World Health Organisation was strong in its support for quarantine measures to stem the spread of the virus.
‘Our job is to protect Australians and provide support for citizens overseas and the best way to do that is to find a place which was designed to deal with people who were coming (from) overseas … and to do that in a way which is humane,’ Mr Hunt said.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton defended the Christmas Island plan, saying it would help keep Australia safe.
‘I can’t clear a hospital in Sydney or Melbourne to accommodate 600 people. We don’t have a facility otherwise that can take this number of people,’ he told the Nine Network on Thursday.
Christmas Island administrator Natasha Griggs said residents had expressed some concerns but had been assured that all necessary measures had been put in place to ensure the safety of locals.
‘By and large, the Christmas Island residents understand that this is a humanitarian mission and they’re generally supportive,’ she said.
‘We’ve got a fantastic team of people that have got experience in doing this, a track record of success so the residents of Christmas Island have no need to worry.’
But Australian Medical Association boss Tony Bartone said there were better alternatives to sending evacuees to Christmas Island, with some medical specialists suggesting the Woodside army barracks near Adelaide and another facility just north of Katherine in the NT.
During this time when they didn’t know they were sick, they interacted with hundreds of people each, some of whom could now be infected.
One patient was even allowed out of isolation to celebrate Australia Day at a restaurant with his family while he was waiting for test results.
People they infected will be going about their lives on crowded trains and buses, having business meetings, and sharing meals – potentially passing the virus on.
This is just from the nine confirmed cases – more than a dozen other people are being tested after developing symptoms associated with the virus.
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.
Australia and New Zealand are planning a joint evacuation of citizens from Wuhan while Singapore is setting up a quarantine facility on an island to the city’s north-east.
Meanwhile, the United States and South Korea confirmed their first cases of person-to-person spread of the virus.
The man in the US is married to a 60-year-old Chicago woman who got sick from the virus after she returned from a trip to Wuhan, the Chinese city that is the epicentre of the outbreak.
Shoppers cover their faces with masks at Asian markets in Cabramatta in Sydney’s southwest on Thursday out of fear of coronavirus
A pamphlet handed out by the Australian Government providing travellers with information on the deadly coronavirus (pictured)
In Australia, the first men were confirmed to be infected with coronavirus on January 25 – three in NSW and another in Victoria.
Two arrived on direct flights from Wuhan to Sydney on separate China Eastern Airlines flight MU749, one on January 20 and another on an unknown date.
Both these flights had up to 250 passengers plus several crew on board who are prime candidates for infection.
Another man, diagnosed on the same day, flew in to Sydney via Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, on January 6 on a plane that carries up to 277 people.
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA
NEW SOUTH WALES: 4
Four people in NSW have been diagnosed with coronavirus, including three men and one woman.
- Three men aged 43, 53, and 35 who had recently travelled to China are confirmed to have contracted the disease.
- Two flew in from Wuhan while the other arrived in Sydney from Shenzhen, south China.
- They are being treated in isolation at Westmead Hospital and are in stable condition.
- A 21-year-old woman is identified as the fourth person to test positive for the illness in NSW.
- The woman, a student at UNSW, flew into Sydney International Airport on flight MU749 on January 23 and presented to the emergency department 24 hours later after developing flu-like symptoms.
- She is being treated in isolation at Westmead Hospital.
- A Chinese national aged in his 50s becomes the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in Australia.
- The man flew to Melbourne on China Southern flight CZ321 from Wuhan via Guangzhou on January 19.
- He is now in quarantined isolation at Monash Hospital in Clayton in Melbourne’s east.
- A Victorian man in his 60s is diagnosed with the coronavirus.
- He became unwell on January 23 – two days after returning from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak.
- The man was confirmed as positive on January 29 and was subsequently seen by doctors at the Monash Medical Centre. He was assessed as being well enough to stay at home.
- A woman in her 40s falls ill with the coronavirus.
- She was visiting from China and mostly spent time with her family.
She is being treated at Royal Melbourne Hospital.
- Queensland confirms its first case after a 44-year-old Chinese national wass diagnosed with the virus.
- He is being treated at Gold Coast University Hospital.
- A 42-year-old Chinese woman who was travelling in the same Wuhan tour group as the 44-year-old man tests positive. She is in Gold Coast University Hospital in stable condition.
Australia has raised the travel alert level to ‘do not travel’ for the city of Wuhan – the epicentre of the outbreak – and for the entire Hubei province.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy says unless people have contact with someone who is unwell and has come from that part of China, there is no need for current concern.
The fourth arrived in Melbourne from Wuhan via Guangzhou on January 19 on a an A388 carrying up to 525 passengers.
A total of 167 flights that can carry 48,999 people are landing in Australia from mainland China per week as coronavirus spreads around the world.
Based on those figures, as many as 342,993 people may have entered Australia from China since the deadly virus was first detected in Wuhan seven weeks ago.
On Thursday, major airlines suspended or reduced services to China including British Airways, Lufthansa, American Airlines, KLM, and United.
But the airlines that fly from China to Australia – including eight Chinese airlines and Qantas – made no changes to their routes, except for China Eastern cancelling its flight from Wuhan to Sydney last week.
The flights include 62 planes from Guangzhou, 42 from Shanghai and 18 from Beijing per week, with direct routes to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Darwin.
On Wednesday, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said the airline was considering scrapping its Sydney to Beijing route due to low demand.
The airline had already announced plans to axe that service from March, but Mr Joyce suggested that could happen sooner.
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.
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.
UNSW is not in semester but there are still some students and staff on campus she could have interacted with, along with on public transport and at the airport.
Many students are terrified they could be infected next, especially with thousands of Chinese classmates due to arrive on campus in coming weeks.
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.
He was with five family members – three adults and two children – at The House of Delight in Glen Waverley between 5.30pm and 7pm.
Victoria’s chief health officer Dr Brett Sutton urged other diners to contact the health department and watch for coronavirus symptoms.
Other businesses in the same building as the restaurant on 52 Montclair Avenue have closed until February 9 and others are thinking about shutting up shop.
A cleaner was brought in to disinfect buttons in the building’s lift.
One of the patient’s adult relatives and one of the children have tested negative so far, and all five are in isolation with him.
The seventh victim has the most capacity to have infected hundreds of others.
The 44-year-old Chinese tourist arrived in Melbourne from Wuhan via Singapore on January 22 and spent several days travelling with a tour group.
On Thursday night it was confirmed that one of them, a 42-year-old woman, contracted the virus herself, while three others were sick.
All eight of his fellow holidaymakers are now in isolation with him at Gold Coast University Hospital.
They all took Tiger Air flight TT566, landing on the Gold Coast about 8pm on Monday on a plane that carries up to 189 passengersQueensland Health chief officer Dr Jeannette Young on Thursday said she was concerned about everyone on the plane.