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Wuhan virus evacuees fly into Darwin quarantine


More than 200 passengers aboard the second Qantas evacuation flight from the coronavirus epicentre in China have landed in Darwin.

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The Australian Border Force said the 266 evacuees included 77 children, 11 infants and a 90-year-old man.

They were screened for signs of the virus two times while in the air and once at the airport in Darwin. All were “well” and healthy, the force said.

They had left the coronavirus epicentre Wuhan early on Sunday morning and were bussed to the disused Manigurr-Ma work camp 30km from Darwin.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said if anyone becomes unwell they will be taken immediately to quarantine in Darwin.

“They will go to the Darwin Hospital where they will be tested and if they are negative that is good and if they are positive they will be properly treated there,” Professor Murphy told reporters.

Evacuees were initially expected to be quarantined on Christmas Island, before a decision was made on Friday to bring them to the former Inpex workers’ accommodation.

Professor Murphy confirmed that a young Australian girl on Christmas Island has tested negative for the virus after developing an illness.

Australian citizens or permanent residents from mainland China face a mandatory two-week quarantine process of self-isolation.

Murphy said there are no current plans for any further “assisted departure” flights.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs is in contact with people on the ground in Wuhan and we have certainly brought off the people at greatest risk,” he said.

Meanwhile, more than 200 Australians remain trapped overseas aboard three cruise ships affected by the virus.

The Diamond Princess remains quarantined at Yokohama in Japan with 3700 people on board, including 219 Australians who are well, and another seven Australians among the 64 passengers that have tested positive.

The World Dream in Hong Kong with coronavirus on board has 16 Australians, none of whom are ill.

Another ship, the Westerdam, has been stranded at sea after the Japanese, Philippines and South Korean governments refused it permission to dock despite no reported cases of the virus on board.

Westerdam passenger David Holst, from Adelaide, posted on Facebook on Sunday that Guam has also rejected the ship.

“We think we are safe onboard in virtual quarantine but Holland America have a history of not telling us everything so we have nagging doubts,” he wrote.

“We are 8 days out of Hong Kong and I don’t imagine any country will let us off until we are 14-15 days virus free.”

Australia has so far had 15 confirmed coronavirus cases: five in Queensland, four each in NSW and Victoria and two in South Australia.

China has raised the death toll from the coronavirus epidemic to 811, passing the number killed globally by the SARS epidemic in 2002/03 as millions prepare to return to work after an extended Lunar New Year break.

Authorities had told businesses to tack up to 10 extra days onto holidays that had been due to finish at the end of January as the rising numbers of dead and infected cast a pall over the country.

Many of China’s usually teeming cities have almost become ghost towns during the past two weeks as Communist Party rulers ordered virtual lockdowns, cancelled flights, closed factories and shut schools.

The sight of an economy regarded as a workshop to the world laid so low has taken a toll on international financial markets, as shares slumped and investors switched into safe havens like gold, bonds and the Japanese yen.

Even on Monday, a large number of workplaces and schools will remain closed and many white-collar employees will work from home.

The new deaths on Saturday reached another daily record at 89, data from the National Health Commission showed, pushing the total well over the 774 who died from SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

An American hospitalised in the central city of Wuhan in Hubei province, where the outbreak began, became the first confirmed non-Chinese victim of the disease.

The Washington Post identified him as Hong Ling, a 53-year old geneticist who studied rare diseases at Berkeley. A Japanese man who also died in Wuhan was another suspected victim.

As millions of Chinese prepared to go back to work, the public dismay and mistrust of official numbers was evident on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter.

Among the latest deaths, 81 were in Hubei, where the virus has infected most people by far. New deaths in Wuhan, Hubei’s capital, saw a rare decline.

New infection cases on Saturday recorded the first drop since February 1, falling back below 3000 to 2656 cases. Of those, 2147 cases were in Hubei.

Total confirmed coronavirus cases in China stood at 37,198, commission data showed.

Joseph Eisenberg, professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan, said it was too early to say whether the epidemic was peaking.

“Even if reported cases might be peaking, we don’t know what is happening with unreported cases,” he said. “This is especially an issue in some of the more rural areas.”

The virus has spread to 27 countries and regions, according to a Reuters count based on official reports, infecting more than 330 people. Two deaths have been reported outside mainland China – in Hong Kong and the Philippines. Both victims were Chinese nationals.

Major cities and capitals announced new travel restrictions as concern over the spread of the virus increased.

Chinese-ruled Hong Kong introduced a two-week quarantine on Saturday for all people arriving from the mainland, or who have been there during the previous 14 days. Malaysia expanded its ban on visitors from China.

France issued a new travel advisory for its citizens, saying it did not recommend travelling to China unless there was an “imperative” reason. Italy asked children travelling from China to stay away from school for two weeks voluntarily.

The latest patients outside China include five British nationals staying in the same chalet at a ski village in Haute-Savoie in the Alps, French health officials said. Spanish health authorites have confirmed the country’s second case.


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