Group of 35 will be returned to Christmas Island, as an eight-year-old boy in Queensland becomes the 13th confirmed Australian case
Thirty-five Australians on board an Air New Zealand evacuation flight from Wuhan will be transferred directly to a flight back to Christmas Island after they arrived in Auckland on Wednesday.
The flight left Wuhan, the global centre of the coronavirus outbreak, with 193 passengers, among them 98 New Zealanders and 70 nationals of Pacific countries including Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Kiribati, Tonga, Fiji and the Federated States of Micronesia, and others from the UK, the Netherlands and Uzbekistan.
Of the Australians, 23 are citizens and 12 permanent residents travelling on Chinese passports. Doctors and paramedics are also on the flight. One passenger was prevented from boarding the flight because they showed signs of illness, Radio NZ reported.
The 9,800km, 12-hour flight landed in Auckland at6.15pm local time (4.15pm AEDT).
New Zealanders and Pacific islanders will be quarantined for a fortnight at Whangaparaoa military base, just north of Auckland, but the Australians will be put straight on another flight, travelling 7,500km back across the country to Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, taking at least nine hours.
“They’ll go to Auckland, then be transferred back to Christmas Island,” Scott Morrison confirmed in a press conference on Wednesday morning.
It was unclear whether the return flight would need to land at the Learmonth base in Western Australia, where the first Australians brought from Wuhan changed planes, because the runway at Christmas Island is not large enough to accommodate the 747 that flew them from China.
New Zealand foreign minister Winston Peters said the Australian officials did not ask to use Auckland base for quarantining.
“We didn’t make the offer because the Australians had already said what they wanted us to do,” he said. “We’re a small country doing the best we can with lesser resources than big countries have.
Peters said New Zealand was happy to help its neighbour out, but did not want to divert the Auckland-bound flight.
“The Australians were, because of their original numbers, looking to see whether we could help them out,” he said.
“We said ‘that’s not a problem but we don’t want to go through Christmas Island you’ll have to, when they arrive here, take them off to Australia and look after them yourself.’
“In every other respect it’s been a total picture of cooperation.”
On Wednesday an eight-year-old boy was identified as the 13th confirmed case of coronavirus in Australia.
The boy, the youngest infected in Australia so far, is a Chinese citizen and from Wuhan. He was travelling in a group with a 44-year-old man and a 42-year-old woman who have been confirmed as Queensland’s other cases of coronavirus.
The child remains in isolation at the Gold Coast University hospital in a stable condition.
Several hundred Australian citizens and permanent residents remain trapped inside Wuhan, in China’s central Hubei province, which is subject to a military-enforced lockdown.
More people had registered to be evacuated on the NZ flight, but typically with international evacuation flights of Wuhan over the last week, the final flight manifest numbers are lower because people are unable to get through roadblocks to reach the airport, or because they don’t pass Chinese screening processes or health checks.
Seventeen countries have now run rescue missions out of Wuhan.
The Australian government is also negotiating a second Australian evacuation flight, which could bring 200 more citizens and permanent residents out of the lockdown zone.
Australian government officials are confident approval can be won, but discussions are ongoing with Chinese authorities about when a flight might be permitted to land and take off.
Globally, the 2019-nCov novel coronavirus has infected more than 20,000 people and killed 427. All but two of those deaths occurring in mainland China.
It has now surpassed the death toll in China of the 2002-03 Sars outbreak, which ran for more than nine months.
There are 241 Australians who have already been moved into quarantine in the barely used immigration detention centre at the isolated north-west end of Christmas Island.
The health minister, Greg Hunt, said all evacuees to Australia have been examined, and there were no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the cohort.
“Fourteen were looked at more closely to ensure that they were in an acceptable condition, and they have now all been cleared of the virus. A further two are being tested as a precaution.
“The advice from the Australian Medical Assistance Team (Ausmat) on the ground is that, however, they regard the likelihood or the probability of coronavirus in that case as being minimal. But nevertheless, they are being tested.”
A pregnant woman and her partner who were on the evacuation flight out of Wuhan have been moved into isolation in Perth. Christmas Island does not have a maternity ward: women on the island are routinely flown to the mainland to give birth.
Some of those quarantined in the immigration detention have complained the conditions in the detention centre are unhygienic, particularly the allocation of shared bathrooms, exacerbating the potential for transmission of an outbreak of coronavirus.
Evacuee Belinda Chen told the ABC: “The hygiene issues make it worse than a prison.
“I understood that there would be very limited facilities here, but the actual condition is no facilities at all. It’s thousands of times worse than I imagined.”
Others said while the conditions were spartan, they were adequate.
Kai Zhang told the ABC conditions were “not very good, but still acceptable”.
“The only thing I’m not used to is the food here, it’s not very ideal for us. I hope with more staff to follow up our conditions, this can be improved,” he said.