A large group of Australians quarantined on a coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan for two weeks are heading back into isolation after arriving in Darwin on a special Qantas flight.
Some 180 citizens and permanent residents had taken up the federal government’s offer of a seat on the evacuation flight, which left Haneda Airport near Yokohama port in the early hours of Thursday morning.
But 10 were told they could not leave because they had tested positive to the deadly disease, known as COVID-19, meaning only 170 could board the flight.
Another 15 had already chosen to stay behind in Japan to be near family members who have been hospitalised after contracting the virus.
The Qantas Boeing 747 jet landed in Darwin at 9:41 a.m. AEDT and the first busload of evacuees arrived at a facility at Howard Springs, 30km southeast of the city, about 11:30 a.m. wearing blue protective gowns an masks.
The evacuees have already spent more than two weeks quarantined on Diamond Princess in Yokohama port and will face another 14-day isolation period at the former Inpex workers camp.
The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus on the Diamond Princess, which was carrying 3,700 passengers and crew, has topped 620 and includes 36 Australians.
Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said while the ship’s quarantine methods had worked to stop the virus spreading onshore, there had been a recent spike in cases onboard.
“It just demonstrates the infectiousness of this particular virus and how it can spread very easily in a closed setting like a cruise ship,” he said.
The cruise ship evacuees will be kept separate from hundreds of people already in quarantine at Howard Springs and who were evacuated from the epicentre of the virus at Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province earlier this month.
Australia is expected to extend its China travel ban for another week amid ongoing fears about the spread of the virus, locking out Chinese students and tourists.
“We’re going to take the best advice of our medical experts,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Sky News on Thursday.
“It’s had a significant economic impact but we’re doing these protectionist measures to ensure that we protect the Australian people.
“These are precautionary initiatives that we have taken.”
Meanwhile, all of the evacuees on Christmas Island have now left the detention-centre turned-quarantine-facility.
None have tested positive for the coronavirus.
There have been 15 confirmed cases of the disease in Australia. Eight people recovered and the rest are in stable conditions.
By Rebecca Gredley