Monday, 10 February 2020
Questions without Notice
I thank Senator Bragg for his question. Yesterday, of course, the 266 passengers who took the second assisted departure flight from Wuhan arrived in Australia. Those passengers continue to show no signs of being infected by the coronavirus. The Australians on the first flight and those who were assisted by New Zealand also remain healthy, on the advice of the chief medical officers. The passengers on the flight yesterday included 95 children under 16 years of age, 11 of whom were infants, and 16 passengers over 60 years of age. Again, we have focused on helping those Australians in an isolated and vulnerable position, and we have prioritised keeping family units together. This brings the total number of Australians who have been assisted to leave Wuhan to 531.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade crisis centre has taken over 10,000 calls since 23 January. Our embassies and our consulate in China have received more than 2,000 calls for advice or assistance. We are, of course, also aware of a number of Australian children who remain in Wuhan with family but who have no immediate guardian to accompany them on any assisted departure flight. We have explored options to assist these children to come home, but Chinese authorities have not agreed to allow family members who are Chinese nationals without Australian citizenship or permanent residence to board these flights. That does, in effect, restrict those options. We understand that this is a difficult situation. The children remain with family—I'm advised that in most cases they're with grandparents—and are being well cared for. We are well aware of the challenges that this presents and we will continue to talk with Australians as this matter proceeds.
I thank Senator Bragg for his supplementary question. A number of Australians are in other parts of China beyond Hubei province as well as on cruise ships, as senators would be aware. The government is in contact with many of them. Australian officials are closely monitoring medical and welfare services on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been quarantined in Japan and is carrying 218 Australians. Where necessary, we are referring Australian cases to cruise company officials or the Japanese government as appropriate for action. DFAT is providing consular assistance to the seven Australians who were diagnosed with the virus on the Diamond Princess and are now in hospitals in Japan. Our officials have also relayed offers of consular assistance through the operator of the Westerdam cruise ship, on which there are 49 Australians. To date, there are no known cases of coronavirus on board that ship.
We are working closely with our Pacific island neighbours, with New Zealand and with the WHO, to protect our region from coronavirus through a number of measures, including a regional response plan, the provision of personal protective equipment and the deployment of Australian health experts to the region. An Australian DFAT official has joined the WHO hub in Suva to assist with addressing the coronavirus issues in our region. We are also working with regional governments on issues related to the movement of shipping and the coronavirus in the region. I was very pleased that we were also able to help members of our Pacific family by including eight vulnerable students from the Pacific islands on the second assisted departure flight from Wuhan, which arrived yesterday, as New Zealand did on their flight last week.