“Remember when they fly from Wuhan. It is very dangerous trip. If one of the passenger has virus, it will might be more dangerous than stay at home.”
Australian officials are prepared that some people may not want to take up the offer because they will be living in the detention centre, albeit not under the harsh conditions that normally greet asylum seekers sent there.
The evacuation flight hinges on China granting permission.
Japan’s first charter flight carrying 206 evacuees from Wuhan arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday morning. Four people aboard were said to have coughs and fever. Bloomberg
The scramble comes as the government urged Australians not to travel to China. It also advised recent returnees who had spent time in Hubei or come into contact with a coronavirus patient to self-quarantine themselves for a fortnight, including students after conflicting advice from education authorities.
Suspending flights between Australia and China has been ruled out for now, despite the Trump administration mulling such action for US carriers and United Airlines voluntarily cancelling its flights.
‘Last in, first out’
The national security committee of cabinet met again on Wednesday to discuss Australia’s response to the outbreak, and will convene again on Friday. Six Australians have been diagnosed with the virus upon their return home.
About 600 Australian citizens have registered as being in Hubei province, along with 200 permanent residents.
Mr Morrison said seats would be allocated on a “last in, first out” basis with priority given to those who don’t live there or have family there, such as holidaymakers. New Zealanders and Pacific Islanders will also be offered seats.
But passengers will be kept in quarantine on Christmas Island for at least 14 days, and expected to contribute to both the cost of the flight and accommodation.
Medical authorities and specialist teams will assist with treatment during the quarantine period.
“I stress there is rather a limited window here and we are moving very, very swiftly to ensure we can put this plan together and put the operation together,” Mr Morrison said.
Morrison’s focus ‘on people’s health’
Health Minister Greg Hunt defended the use of Christmas Island’s detention centre, saying it had been selected because officials could prepare it quickly.
Just four people are in the detention centre, the family of four Tamils from Biloela in Queensland facing deportation back to Sri Lanka. They will be kept segregated from the quarantine cases.
Mr Morrison said it was too soon to assess the economic impact of the virus, with the tourism and education sectors set to be hard hit as the number of Chinese visitors to Australia dwindles.
“To be honest, right now, my focus is on people’s health and their wellbeing. And these issues will be addressed in time when a clearer picture emerges,” he said.
“These are not things that are confined obviously to Australia, and their broader impact, and they will be assessed as we particularly lead into the next budget and that is the appropriate time I think for that reconciliation to take place.”
Coronavirus infection projections Les Hewitt
JP Morgan economist Ben Jarman has downgraded economic growth in Australia by 0.1 percentage point to reflect the impact from the virus on China-related trade.
“We are downgrading 1Q GDP growth by 0.1 percentage point for both Australia and New Zealand, to incorporate the drag on services exports. Obviously there is a risk the travel ban extends for longer in which case some spillover into 2Q is possible as well,” Mr Jarman said.
KPMG’s Brendan Rynne and Michael Malakellis have estimated the initial impact to be smaller.
“The initial downturn in the Chinese economy has a causal effect of reducing the Australian economy by about $0.7 billion by the end of 2020,” they said.
“We note this is a moderate scenario. It doesn’t include a ‘contagion scenario’.”