The Australian Government will establish a pop-up Consular office in Wuhan as it seeks approval from the Chinese government to evacuate Australians from Hubei province and quarantine them on Christmas Island.
Australians evacuated from Hubei, the epicenter of a global outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, will have to agree to being quarantined on Christmas Island for 14 days or remain in China, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a media conference on Wednesday.
Just over 600 Australian citizens are currently registered as being in Hubei.
“We will seek to speak with each of them in relation to the Government’s announcement,” the Prime Minister said.
“Australians departing on any flight arranged by the Australian Government will be flown to Christmas Island to undertake a period of quarantine of up to 14 days based on current medical advice, as a condition of their assisted departure.”
Evacuated Australians will also have to contribute to the cost of their flight.
The temporary Consular office will work with local authorities and a consular team will assist with evacuations.
An Australian Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) will provide medical support and expert advice to Australians upon arrival at Christmas Island.
The decision follows a meeting of the National Security Committee on Wednesday morning.
Mr Morrison said the government has a limited window to implement the plan, which remains complicated and subject to approval from China.
“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,” he said.
Consular officials from Shanghai were currently en route to Wuhan to provide a presence on the ground and co-ordinate evacuation plans, Mr Morrison said.
“There are many complications and many issues that we’re going to have to overcome,” he said, adding the operation will be done in partnership with the NZ government.
Mr Morrison also announced it is releasing 1 million masks from then national stockpile through Primary Health Networks to replace those depleted during the recent bushfire crisis.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said there are now 6,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in China and 132 deaths, nearly all in Hubei province.
He said there have been 84 cases in other countries including five in Australia.
“We do expect a very small number of additional cases to be reported in the near future,” he said.
Australia was well prepared to isolate and manage any infected people, Dr Murphy said.
*Update: The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global public health emergency on January 31.
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