Government working on plan to evacuate Australians from China

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Government working on plan to evacuate Australians from China - DesiEngine
Government working on plan to evacuate Australians from China - DesiEngine

Australians trapped in Hubei province will not be able to leave the area for days as the Morrison government works on a plan to evacuate nationals caught up in the coronavirus outbreak.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) is preparing to send consular officials to Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak, before it settles on a plan to get citizens out of the area. The move comes as the number of citizens seeking consular help in the locked-down province of Hubei has hit 400.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he spoke to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday afternoon about the outbreak and how to support their nationals caught up in the outbreak.

China has tried to curb new infections by cordoning off entire cities in the central Hubei province in the middle of the Lunar New Year, when millions of people normally visit family in other parts of the country.

The government has not decided it will definitely extract citizens, but consular officials are now in close contact with Chinese authorities about the prospect of an evacuation. Any evacuation would likely need to be done by one or more charter flights, possibly as part of an agreement with a commercial airline.

The situation is complicated by the fact that Australia does not have any consular officials based in Hubei province, unlike the United States, which has already committed to evacuating a “limited” number of Americans from Wuhan.

Australian embassy officials were on Monday night briefed on the situation in Hubei province in a meeting with Chinese authorities.

The option of extracting Australians will be discussed at a meeting of the national security committee of cabinet (NSC) on Wednesday. The NSC also met on Monday to discuss the situation.

Australian authorities have been in contact with their New Zealand counterparts about the best way to extract nationals stuck in Hubei province.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he spoke to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday afternoon about the outbreak and how to support their nationals caught up in the outbreak.

“Right now, the Australian government, through our embassy, is looking to deploy, working with the Chinese government, consular officials … into Hubei province, into Wuhan,” Mr Morrison said.

“This is essential to assist us as we then consider the further options of support that we can provide to Australian citizens who are in Wuhan and in Hubei province more broadly.”

The government has said it is too difficult to estimate how many Australians are in Hubei province, but there have been concerns that about 100 Australian children are in the area.

‘Orderly way’
Mr Morrison stressed there had been just five confirmed cases of the virus in Australia, saying a number of tests were being conducted on others who had presented with symptoms.

“These are being done in an orderly way. The treatment facilities are in place,” he said. “And I’m advised by the chief medical officer that the capabilities and the treatment platforms that are there are more than meeting the need.”

He said the government was working with schools, universities, the tourism industry and others to ensure information about the virus was being circulated and people with symptoms knew to seek medical attention.

“This is something that the government is monitoring extremely closely … but I would encourage Australians to go about their business, to understand and listen to the advice that’s being received, and if you’ve had any contact with that area directly, then the steps you need to take are fairly obvious,” he said.

Patrick criticises ‘she’ll be right’ response
Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick earlier criticised the government for a “she’ll be right” response to the unfolding crisis, calling on Foreign Minister Marise Payne to lean on Beijing to assist with the repatriation of Australians.

“The Royal Australian Air Force should be involved,” he said. “The government does need to do better on this … They are in contact with people in Beijing who are in charge and should be indicating to China that we want to get our citizens out. We need to be looking at all options.”

The US will evacuate some consular staff from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, on a charter flight on Tuesday, and Japan and France plan to evacuate citizens in the coming days. Thailand is working to bring back its nationals and Germany is also considering flying home its citizens.

No.1 issue
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the plight of Australians trapped in China was “one of the number one issues” at Monday’s national security meeting.

“We have perhaps the world’s most prepared system as identified by the World Health Organisation [WHO] in their most recent national assessment two years ago, and what the Prime Minister wanted to do was to make sure that all of the elements of that are in place, being activated and underway,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.

“And that’s about making sure that our tracing, our treatment, our testing, our identification and our care of patients – not just within Australia but our care and support for people overseas in China – is underway and every possible step that can be taken is being taken.”

He said the names of the 400 Australians registered with DFAT were being cross-checked to ensure there was no double-counting “because sometimes you will have, understandably, multiple family members report the same person”.

Asked if the government would consider turning back flights arriving from China, Mr Hunt said: “If the medical advice is that stronger action is needed, the Prime Minister, the cabinet, and the national security committee will adopt that immediately.”

“Australia declared this to be a disease with pandemic potential and so we have followed the expert advice at every step,” he said. “We have biosecurity officials boarding all planes from China, providing information, also speaking with passengers, looking for signs, looking for symptoms and what we are doing is moving at the fastest possible pace.”

‘Precautionary approach’
Senator Patrick, meanwhile, said Australia should take a “precautionary” approach and assume the virus might be transmissible before symptoms appeared until provided with evidence to the contrary. He also called for temperature screening at airports and for every passenger arriving in Australia to be questioned about whether they had visited coronavirus-affected areas in recent weeks.

DFAT should upgrade its travel advice to recommend avoiding all non-essential travel to China, he said, and ensure that “no one from Hubei province or other affected areas, or with the virus’ symptoms, boards a plane destined for Australia”.

“Efforts should be made to trace or contact everyone who arrived on flights from Wuhan over the past month,” Senator Patrick said.

Across China, 106 people had died and confirmed cases had jumped to more than 4500, China’s National Health Commission said on Tuesday. Cases of the coronavirus have also been reported in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, Nepal, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the US and France. Five cases have been confirmed in Australia.

original source: Smh

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