Aussies refuse virus evacuation flight
The Australian Government has confirmed it will evacuate 180 Australian passengers tomorrow morning that have been aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship - but several have refused to evacuate.
In total 15 Australians have declined the offer to be flown to Darwin and will stay behind onboard the cruise liner that has been in lockdown outside the Japanese port of Yokohama since coronavirus was detected on board a fortnight ago.
In a press conference today Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge said the passengers would be flown from Japan to the RAAF Dawn base early Thursday morning.
Mr Tudge stressed "no passengers will board the plane if they have any symptoms of the coronavirus or test positive", with evacuees to undergo five health screenings before being granted admission into Australia.
"About 15 people have decided to stay behind," he told reporters. "The number of people boarding the plane is actually a figure higher than we had anticipated."
Once they arrive in Darwin they will be transferred to a facility currently being used to quarantine other Australians after coronavirus exposure.
"On the advice of the medical experts the Australian Government will be mandating a 14-day quarantine period for all other passengers, and the passengers will be transferred to the Howard Springs accommodation facility in the Northern Territory," Mr Tudge said.
"They will be obviously in a quarantine arrangement there for the full 14 days before they are able to be allowed to return to their home towns."
Mr Tudge declined to say if the government was considering ending the current ban which prevents non Australians from entering the country from China as it was a decision for the National Security Cabinet.
"I think we can see from what's happened on the Diamond Princess, almost 20 per cent of people on that boat have become infected with the virus over the last two weeks. It is very infectious," he said.
"There are over 2000 deaths. So all of these things will play in. We will look at the epidemiology of the virus in China.
"At the moment most of the cases are still coming from Hubei province and less from the other provinces so that is an important component to take into account … our advice has been based and the government has listened to our advice from the medical expertise, we are wanting to protect the health and wellbeing of Australians. That is our number one aim."
Passengers have been stuck on board the Diamond Princess for two weeks, with 18-year-old Australian Tehya Pfeffer previously telling news.com.au they've been confined to their cabins.
She said there was a "very eerie" feeling on board and she and her grandmother Cathy Pfeffer had passed the time by watching movies, playing games and talking to friends and family.
"I wasn't worried about getting sick. The crew and quarantine officials were very cautious and we were confined to our rooms for pretty much the entire time," Ms Pfeffer said.
"It was OK being on the ship, as long as you kept yourself busy.
"Everyone was properly instructed on how to protect everyone from the virus. We always wore masks and gloves when going out of the room for fresh air or opening the door for crew. Our contact with crew was limited, but when they came to give us food they always wore gloves and masks."
More than 3700 people are on board the Diamond Princess, which was sent into lockdown after it emerged a passenger that left the ship in Hong Kong had later tested positive for coronavirus.
So far more than 355 cases of coronavirus - including 32 Australians - have been confirmed on the ship, with speculation the quarantine of passengers may have contributed to the spread of the illness.
There are now more than 73,451 confirmed cases of coronavirus worldwide, with 15 confirmed cases in Australia.