Australia defends choice of remote detention centre to house locals evacuated from Wuhan

Australia defends choice of remote detention centre to house locals evacuated from Wuhan
Australia defends choice of remote detention centre to house locals evacuated from Wuhan

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Peter Dutton speaks to the media during a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia August 21, 2018. — Reuters pic

SYDNEY, Jan 30 — Australia's conservative government today defended its decision to use a detention centre thousands of kilometres from the mainland to quarantine locals evacuated from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in China.

Australia yesterday said it would evacuate “isolated and vulnerable” locals from Wuhan as part of a joint operation with New Zealand.

Some health officials have criticised the decision to move those people to Christmas Island — about 2,600km from Australia and that had been used to hold thousands of refugees between 2002 and 2018.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said Australia has no other choice.

“The reality is people need to be accommodated for somewhere for up to 14 days. I can't clear out a hospital in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane,” Dutton told reporters in Canberra. “I don't have a facility otherwise that we can quickly accommodate for what might be many hundreds of people and Christmas Island is purpose-built for exactly this scenario.”

The detention centre on Christmas Island was reopened last year after a decade of being idled. It houses a Tamil family whom Australia wants to deport to Sri Lanka.

Australia, which has seven cases of coronavirus, said about 600 people have told the government they are in Wuhan, though Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was not clear how many wanted to leave China.

Morrison said priority would be given to infants and elderly people.

Today, the global death toll from the epidemic hit 170 people, while the number of infected patients rose to 7,711.

Australia's defence of its policy came as several countries began isolating hundreds of citizens evacuated from Wuhan.

Nearly 200 Americans, mostly US diplomats and their families, airlifted from Wuhan yesterday, will remain isolated at a US military base in California for at least 72 hours of medical observation, public health officials said.

A second flight with Japanese evacuees from Wuhan landed in Japan on Thursday, with nine people showing symptoms of fever or coughing, broadcaster NHK reported. The first flight landed on Wednesday and at least one more is expected in coming days.

New Zealand today said it would charter an aircraft to assist citizens wanting to leave Wuhan. — Reuters

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