- Australians trapped in Wuhan amid the coronavirus outbreak will be flown to Christmas Island to be quarantined under a new government plan, should they elect to do so.
- While claiming the operation is the best plan of attack, there are serious questions that the government has declined or is unable to answer.
- These include how the Australians will be transported, in what conditions they will be quarantined, and how they can ensure the quarantine period will only last two weeks.
- Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.
It goes without saying really.
The Federal Government’s last-minute plan to transport Australians stuck in Wuhan, China and move them to Christmas Island, home of one of the country’s most notorious detentions comes with more question marks than a game of Trivial Pursuit.
In fact, even when Scott Morrison fronted media on Wednesday to unveil it, he seemed unsure of much else beyond the broadest of strokes, revealing his government was “preparing a plan”.
Other than noting there were around 600 registered Australians living in the Hubei province, little more light has been shed on the operation. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) declined to answer any of Business Insider Australia’s questions seeking clarification, directing it instead to DFAT Minister Marise Payne’s interview with ABC National.
These are the central cracks that have emerged in the plan.
How many Australians will volunteer to go to Christmas Island?
Needless to say, while remaining in Wuhan is not an appealing prospect, nor is the thought of being transported to a literal detention centre, particularly one with the sordid history of Christmas Island.
Of the 600 Australians believed to currently be in Wuhan, how many will be willing to voluntarily submit themselves to quarantine? Some would argue of all places, a facility deliberately set up with the sole purpose of deterring asylum seekers wouldn’t appeal to the youngest and most vulnerable Australians the government is targeting with this plan.
Who would pay to visit Christmas Island?
Even if it did, the trip won’t be free.
“They will also be required to commit to making a contribution to the cost, consistent with normal arrangements in these circumstances,” according to a government statement.
While the government has refused to reveal how much individuals will be charged, evacuees have confirmed to the Sydney Morning Herald they have been asked for $1,000 by the government.
Lucky them. That’s far less than the $30 million the government has spent locking up the family of four currently residing there.
How are Australians going to leave Wuhan?
The first obvious question is just potentially hundreds of Australian citizens will be moved from the interior Chinese province of Hubei to the remote island territory, more than 4,500 kilometres away.
Flying would seem the obvious route, but there are a few issues with that. Firstly, Qantas has bravely, if not foolishly, volunteered to do the trip. It has never piloted a flight to Wuhan in its long-history when the city wasn’t in total shutdown. To get there, both the carrier and the Australian government will have to coordinate closely with the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to be granted permission to fly in. If China is willing to allow it – making an exemption to its lockdown of the province — then the plane can theoretically land.
“It is a very complex process, given the number of Australians who are in the region and the makeup of families and so on,” Payne told ABC Radio.
“We didn’t have a consular presence in Wuhan. We don’t have a permanent consul there. So we have moved some staff from Shanghai to do that. And of course, this is a very evolving and complex health crisis.”
While not impossible, it’s certainly a task requiring significant cooperation at a time when the CCP is desperately trying to contain the spread of coronavirus through one of the largest, most populous nations on earth. Equally the Australian government and its overseas personnel are going to have to fetch the Australians willing to make the trip – some of whom are expected to be children and infants – and get them through the deserted city to the airport.
How are Australians going to arrive on Christmas Island?
Let’s say this all goes to plan. Then those who choose to leave have to be loaded up onto the Qantas plane and take their seats. Assumedly there’s not a whole host of Qantas flight attendants volunteering to operate food service so I imagine they’ll be left alone in the cabin for the duration of the flight, while the pilots are sealed in the cockpit.
The next problem the government is going to encounter is the plane can’t fly directly to Christmas Island, as the tarmac cannot support a 747. It’s been suggested then that it may have to stop at an Australian airport and transfer passengers/patients to a smaller plane. At this stage, the transfer is going to have to be carried out with military precision to avoid cross-contamination of outsiders. Again, they’ll be dealing with literal children, so this is a touch more complex. The government has ruled out a mainland hospital stay.
“This is the safest approach the government has determined and one which we think assists both Australians who are in Wuhan who we may be able to move and of course to protect public health here in Australia,” Payne said.
Once they get in a smaller plane and hopefully avoided spreading the virus to airport staff or government personnel, the patients could then be flown to Christmas Island.
How will Australians be contained in a detention centre?
It goes without saying that a facility designed to confine migrants isn’t really equipped to deal with a public health emergency, despite the Minister’s best intentions.
“Appropriate care will most definitely be provided and I can assure all Australians of that,” Payne said, noting that the conditions perhaps wouldn’t be so much worse than the ones they’ve faced in recent days.
“Of course, they have been in a period of semi-quarantine, if you like, in Wuhan for some time now based on the decisions of the Chinese authorities in relation to restricting movement and so on,” Payne said.
Basically, they’re used to confinement. It’s no big deal.
What happens if someone is found to be infected in the group at the end of the two week period?
This question hasn’t really been addressed at all. Instead the government has repeated its intention to only contain patients for two weeks.
Significantly, what about the people who live on Christmas Island and the family already being held in the current centre? How can it be guaranteed that they won’t catch the virus too simply by virtue of residing on a small island territory laden with patients flown directly from the virus epicentre?
Where will those Australians go once they’ve been cleared by quarantine
Once someone has finished their internment, where do they go? While the government has refused to answer, those facing the prospect have been told once cleared they’ll be dropped in Perth and have to fund any travel from that point.
Presumably, those who have been living in Wuhan will need to go back there to continue their lives, stumping up thousands of dollars to get back there. Of course, with the city still presumably a hotbed of dangerous biological matter, they won’t be rushing back right away. So what will they do until the city is declared safe?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Nowhere could be worse than from where they’ve just come.
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