SYDNEY (Reuters) – More than 150 Australians arrived home on Thursday to begin two weeks of quarantine after finally disembarking a cruise ship docked in Japan where more than 600 people have contracted the newly identified coronavirus.
The Diamond Princess, owned by Carnival Corp, has been quarantined at Yokohama near Tokyo since Feb. 3, initially with 3,700 people aboard – including 220 Australian holidaymakers.
The Qantas Airways plane chartered to evacuate the Australians arrived at Darwin shortly before 10:00 a.m. (2300 GMT), television footage showed.
The exact number of Australians onboard is not known.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 169 Australians had asked for evacuation, though those holidaymakers would need to be symptom-free when checked by Japanese health officials prior to boarding the plane.
Morrison will meet with Australia’s National Security Committee later on Thursday to discuss whether to extend a ban on the arrival of foreigners from mainland China, two sources told Reuters.
Australia has prevented anyone but citizens and permanent residents from entering the country directly from mainland China since Feb. 1, citing a need to stop the spread of the new flu-like coronavirus that emerged from China late last year.
The restrictions were criticized on Monday by China’s ambassador to Australia, who described them as “harsh” and an “overreaction”.
Morrison has said Canberra would be guided by advice from medical experts, despite growing pressure on the Australian economy.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner and a major source of tourists and fee-paying students.
Australia’s top central banker this month said the coronavirus epidemic could shave 0.2 percentage points off Australia’s economic growth in the first quarter of this year.
Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Stephen Coates
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