A Qantas charter flight will evacuate Australian passengers from the Diamond Princess on Wednesday, the Federal Government has announced.
The 200 Australians, who have been held virtual prisoners in their cabins for two weeks after the ship was hit by the coronavirus and held in Japan, will be flown to the Howard Springs quarantine facility in Darwin. Among them, 26 have tested positive for the coronavirus.
They will enter a 14-day quarantine period before they can return to their homes.
The toll of cases has been mounting, currently at 542 with 88 more confirmed Tuesday and 99 confirmed Monday.
Some passengers, particularly those from America who were evacuated early today, have expressed their frustration at the fact that they must serve another quarantine period.
In a bid to head off anger and frustration from Australian passengers, whose quarantine period would have been up on Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: “I understand that those who were on board will feel very frustrated about this, as well as their family members.
“I am very frustrated about it. But, our first responsibility is that we have to protect the health and safety of Australians in Australia today.”
Mr Morrison said Diamond Princess passengers who do not return on the charter flight would have to remain outside Australia for two weeks before returning home.
There have also been questions surrounding the effectiveness of the quarantine aboard the Diamond Princess.
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy also said the second stint in quarantine was crucial because there were growing numbers of infections on the ship.
“The Australians who have been quarantined over the last 12 days, many of them have done everything that they have been asked to do and they are probably wondering why we are imposing this extra requirement,” he said.
“We are not quite sure why there have been ongoing infections, but given there has been recent cases, we cannot be absolutely sure that any of the currently well people on the ship who are coming home on Wednesday are not carrying the virus.
“We cannot be sure and if we cannot be sure, we have to take precautions.”
Australian evacuees from Wuhan are also currently quarantined in Howards Springs, Darwin, in an unused workers’ camp, 30 kilometres south-east of Darwin’s CBD.
New Zealanders on board the Diamond Princess will also be offered places on the flight to Darwin before being transferred back to their quarantine arrangements in New Zealand.
The Australian National Security Committee has also decided that any person who is on board the Diamond Princess, regardless of their nationality, will be denied entry into Australia for 14 days after they leave the ship.
Passengers aboard Holland America Line’s Westerdam have also encountered issues. The ship, which was denied entry to five different ports finally docked in Sihanoukville.
A passenger onboard was discovered to be sick with coronavirus after passengers disembarked and there are now urgent calls to track down and quarantine all former passengers.
There are now fears that passengers have unwittingly carried the virus to their home countries, which also include Australia.
Marise Payne, the Minister for Foreign Affairs said: “Thirty-six Australians remained in Phnom Penh after the ship finally docked in Sihanoukville. They have been provided hotel accommodation in the capital and they’re in the process of being tested by the Cambodian authorities. We expect those tests to be returned in the next 48 hours.
“Ten Australians have remained on the ship itself as it is docked in Sihanoukville (along with 200 other passengers). The Cambodian government is making arrangements to test those people who remained on the ship. The testing will occur over the next two to three days. Our post in Cambodia are reaching out to those Australians to provide assistance to them and to establish when they will be able to leave the cruise ship and support any other issues they have.”
The Department of Health updated today that of those tested within the hotel they understand all have tested negative. We are still waiting on test results for those that remain on the ship, states the department.