The Unanswered Questions Of Australia's Coronavirus Evacuation Plan
The plan to evacuate Australians from the coronavirus epicentre remains fuzzy, with questions of how to land a large plane on Christmas Island and how people will be treated there yet to be answered.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese slammed the plan, while Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton shot back that some critics "are so poorly informed their comments are embarrassing."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced plans to medically evacuate some 600 Australian citizens from the Chinese city of Wuhan and place them in quarantine in the detention centre on Christmas Island, 2600 kilometres northwest of Perth.
The facility closed in 2018 but reopened controversially in 2019.
It currently houses just four residents -- the Sri Lankan asylum seeker family from Biloela, Queensland, who are awaiting further court decisions on whether they can remain in Australia.
The government came under fire for reopening the Christmas Island centre, at a cost of $185 million, and not sending anyone there. The Biloela family have been there since August.
On Thursday, Albanese slammed the government's plan to take the coronavirus quarantine patients to the centre.
"I think that it is unclear whether that is motivated by a genuine belief that is the only option," he told ABC radio.
"Or whether the embarrassment of the government opening Christmas Island having a husband, a wife from Biloela and their four-year-old and two-year-old daughters there at the cost of tens of millions of dollars."
"They need to be seen to be doing something at Christmas Island other than holding a press conference for Scott Morrison."
Dutton defended the plan, saying the centre was equipped for such quarantine purposes.
He said people would be held within the centre "until we get medical clearance for them to come out".
Dutton added public medical facilities for citizens on the island would not be used during the operation and that the Biloela family would be held in a "completely separate area" to the quarantined Australians.
"I can't clear a hospital in Sydney or Melbourne to accommodate 600 people. We don't have a facility otherwise that can take this number of people," Dutton told reporters on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Christmas Island's mayor Gordon Thompson told the ABC he had not been consulted and feared the plan would turn the area into a "leper colony".
"Regressive colonial-era ideas since 2001. Create convict settlement for innocent people, now we'll be a leper colony," Thompson said in a text, according to the ABC.
WA is the closest state to Christmas Island, with flights running to the island from the west coast. The state's premier Mark McGowan has also claimed he had not been told of the plan but said he supported it.
Dutton said it was still unclear how many people would take up the offer to be evacuated from China, which would dictate the travel logistics.
He said evacuees would be asked to pay for their flights from China, and that there were "a number of different options" for Qantas planes to charter.
On Wednesday, Qantas boss Alan Joyce said there were "a lot of complexities" which the carrier was "working through", but that no decision had yet been made.
Some of the issues related to take-off from China and landing planes on Christmas Island.
Australian authorities must obtain permission from the Chinese government to fly a plane in and out of the country, as the area has been locked down to travellers.
Qantas has also never flown to Wuhan, so this would be new territory for the airline.
Assuming the diplomatic logistics are ironed out, the plane must then land on Christmas Island -- a tiny speck in the ocean, with a runway not equipped to handle large passenger jets.
Dutton said planes could be first taken to Darwin or Western Australia's Learmonth Airport before passengers are put onto smaller shuttle flights.
"All of that is in the planning at the moment," he said.
Daniel Ou-Yang, 21, is an Australian in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
He wants to return to Sydney but said he is unsure about the living conditions on Christmas Island if he's evacuated there.
"Will I be treated as an Australian or as a detainee? I am in their hands and can only hope it will go smoothly," Yang told AAP.
He said he has not heard from the Australian government in four days.
"I know we would be kept in the detention centre and the treatment of detainees is not the best," Yang said.
He said there was "hysteria at the hospital and some of the shops" in China, but that locals were staying strong.
"Outside my apartment window two nights ago there were people singing in the street together," he said.
"We are very strong. We are united."