Australia to help some citizens leave China, quarantine them on Christmas Island

FILE PHOTO: Passengers wearing masks sit on an Air China flight from Sydney to Beijing before takeoff, in Sydney, Australia January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia will help some citizens leave Hubei province in China, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, and quarantine them on Christmas Island, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday following a briefing by the Chinese government.

“We have taken a decision this morning to prepare a plan for an operation to provide some assisted departures for isolated and vulnerable Australians in Wuhan and the Hubei province,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

Morrison did not say how many of the 600 Australians registered in the Hubei region the government would be able to help, adding Australia would also be working to help New Zealand and Pacific island citizens in Hubei.

“But 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.

The evacuations will be done on a last in-first out basis, Morrison added.

Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean 1,500km (900 miles) from the mainland, is home to a controversial immigration detention centre.

Australia, which has five confirmed cases of coronavirus, on Wednesday upgraded its travel advice to “reconsider all travel to China”, and warned its citizens not to travel to Hubei province and to avoid crowded areas.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Lincoln Feast.

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