Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the government was drawing up contingency plans “for every possible scenario” after more than 200 Australians were forced into quarantine on a cruise ship off the Japanese coast.
“We have been worried about cruise ships. We are worried about what happens if further provinces are shut down and whether we face the prospect of trying to assist people to depart literally in the thousands,” Mr Dutton said.
The Home Affairs Minister said the government was looking at different facilities because “we don’t have that capacity” on Christmas Island.
“There are isolated mining camps or hotels that you could take over,” he told the ABC on Wednesday. “But I think we’ll look at all of those in order of what we think is the best response. All of this is in the spirit of preparation.”
In 2010, Parliament’s joint standing committee on migration reported the Christmas Island detention centre the evacuees are being housed in could accommodate up to 800 people. The first group of 241 evacuees arrived at the North-West Point facility on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged Australians in China to get on the last commercial Qantas flights out of the country and warned the government may not be able to rescue them if they become stranded during a growing coronavirus lockdown.
More than 200 Australians have been quarantined onboard a cruise ship in Japan that has seen at least 10 confirmed coronavirus cases.
Two evacuation flights out of Wuhan, the centre of the epidemic in Hubei province, have now left the country, but Qantas is still running commercial flights out of Shanghai and Beijing until Sunday.
More than 24,503 cases of the virus have now been confirmed, including 20,492 in China and 13 in Australia. So far 492 people had died and 727 have recovered.
The government is aiming for a third flight to leave Wuhan over the weekend, but only the 350 Australians estimated to still be trapped in Hubei are eligible for the evacuation to Christmas Island.
The Prime Minister confirmed 35 Australians were now on a second evacuation flight run by Air New Zealand. Those evacuees will stop over in Auckland before being transported another 7450 kilometres to Christmas Island.The Prime Minister’s warning comes amid signs of tension over the Australian government amd media’s handling of the global health emergency. Chinese state media ran an opinion piece on Wednesday that singled out Australia and the United States for over-reacting.
Yu Lei, the prinicpal researcher the Pacific Island Research Center of Liaocheng University, accused Australia of following the US in banning non-residents coming from China after the media had ulteriorly referred to the “novel coronavirus” as the “Chinese virus”, and taken “the opportunity to promote racism, anti-foreign and xenophobia”.