China flights to Australia questioned amid virus epidemic fears

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has been questioned about whether Australia is doing enough to guard against a potential pandemic of the deadly caronavirus, after a plane direct from the disease’s epicentre landed in Sydney as the Chinese Government locked the city down.


Photo: AP/Mark Schiefelbein

Photo: AP/Mark Schiefelbein

The plane arrived yesterday after leaving Wuhan shortly before the lockdown of flights, trains and roads in the city of 11 million, in an attempt to stop the spread of the new mystery virus which has now killed 25 people and infected more than 800.

The citywide lockdown has been called unprecedented in public health history.

Passengers and crew arriving at Sydney from Wuhan wore face masks and those who flagged concerns about their health had their temperature taken.

NSW Health had doctors and nurses experienced in infection control at the airport working alongside the Australian Border Force.

Virology experts were also there. No ill passengers were found on the flight.

However, those exposed to the virus may not display flu-like symptoms for up to a week.

Two people in Brisbane are being tested for the virus, while four others have been tested and cleared, health officials say.

Dutton acknowledged screening was made most difficult by passengers passing through different airports on their way to Australia, or passing through the Chinese province in the past month.

Crossbench senator Rex Patrick questioned why only flights from Wuhan were being screened by biosecurity staff.

“More than 40 direct China flights will arrive in Australia today,” Patrick said on Friday.

“Why aren’t all direct flights being screened?”

“We have the world’s best protocols in place,” Dutton told the Nine Network on Friday.

“I think people should recognise that in a country like ours the health services are the best prepared, best able to respond, and they can quarantine people very quickly.”

Chinese officials fear the disease’s transmission rate could accelerate as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad for the Lunar New Year, which begins on Saturday.

Shortly after Wuhan imposed its lockdown, the neighbouring city of Huanggang, with about 7 million people, announced a similar move.

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Beijing cancelled large gatherings, including two Lunar New Year temple fairs, and closed the Forbidden City, the capital’s most famous tourist attraction, to visitors until further notice.

Taiwan banned anyone from Wuhan from entering, while Kuwait said it would screen passengers from some flights with thermal cameras.

Five people were being tested in Scotland for coronavirus and one person in Belfast showing symptoms was being treated, Sky News reported.

“It is a bit too early to consider that this is a public health emergency of international concern,” World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva on Thursday.

He said the organisation’s emergency committee of 16 independent experts had been divided in its conclusion.

“Make no mistake, though, this is an emergency in China. But it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one,” he said.

-with AAP

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