“There are isolated mining camps or hotels that you could take over. 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.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday 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.
Two evacuation flights out of Wuhan, the epicentre 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.
“Australians who are in mainland China should not assume that Australia will be in a position to put flights as we have into Wuhan,” Mr Morrison said in Canberra on Wednesday.
As of Wednesday evening more than 24,503 cases of the virus have 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 be trapped in Hubei are eligible for the evacuation to Christmas Island.
The first group of 241 evacuees arrived at the island’s detention centre on Tuesday. 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, with China’s state media running an opinion piece that singled out Australia and the United States for over-reacting.
Yu Lei, the prinicpal researcher the Pacific Island Research Center of Liaocheng University, said in an opinion piece for the Global Times that Australia had followed 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”.
“These abominable practices not only hurt the emotions and interests of the Chinese people, but also hurt the hard-won Sino-Australian mutually beneficial cooperative relations,” he said.
Mr Morrison praised the Chinese community’s “magnificent” response to the crisis in Australia and said any provocations of the community were were “reprehensible”.
“You are observing and taking so seriously your responsibilities together with all Australians to ensure that we’ve been so far quite successfully able to contain the impact of the coronavirus within Australia,” he said.
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra
Anthony is foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.