- Some Australians who have found themselves trapped in Wuhan amid the coronavirus outbreak will be transported to Christmas Island where they will be quarantined, the Federal Government has announced.
- Speaking to media on Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said “isolated and vulnerable Australians” would be transported, with young children given priority.
- The island has long been a source of controversy for consecutive Australian govenrments which have used it for years to detain asylum seekers.
- Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.
Christmas Island will be repurposed by Australia from detention centre to quarantine camp.
Having controversially used the remote Indian Ocean territory to keep out asylum seekers for the better part of two decades, the government announced on Wednesday it would use it to quarantine Australians who have found themselves in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We’re preparing a plan for an operation to provide some assisted departures for isolated and vulnerable Australians in Wuhan and the Hubei province,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told media on Wednesday. “We will be standing up Christmas Island as a quarantine area.”
“This will be done subject obviously to working closely and with the authority and approval of the Chinese Government … I stress that this will be done on a last-in, first-out basis … we’re particularly focused on the more vulnerable components of that population. That’s young people, particularly infants.”
Foreign Minister Marise Payne confirmed there is currently around 600 Australians believed to be situated in the area. Those selected will be transported from China to Christmas Island, a small Australian territory south of Jakarta, a journey of more than 4,500 kilometres. They are expected to spend 14 days in quarantine, Morrison said, while others will remain in China.
“There are some people who will be there [in Wuhan] for some time and effectively have been living there for some period of time. We are talking about people who are there not in those circumstances, those who don’t have support structures in that place, those who are particularly vulnerable because they might have young children or they may be elderly,” he said.
The Christmas Island detention facility was shut down in 2018, after years of controversy including unrest and protests within the centre as well as stories of self-harm and riots. One man died there in 2015, falling to his death after trying to escape. Coalition government last year reopened the detention centre after Parliament passed a medivac bill despite its opposition.
Just four people are currently detained there, costing the federal government $30 million, a senate committee heard late last year.
This government has spent $30 million to detain just four people – the Biloela family, who built a life here in Australia. pic.twitter.com/o8Lk8WN6wL
— Nick McKim (@NickMcKim) October 21, 2019
Contrast this recent history with the separate image that Christmas Island has tried to craft for itself as a tourist destination.
“The islands displays a curious amalgam of cultures, history and industry, emerging as a place where all these elements create a truly unusual travel experience,” its official website boasts.
Given the coming flood of quarantine patients, truer words were never spoken.
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