Evacuation flight blocked as deadly virus toll grows
A plane due to fly Australians from the coronavirus affected city of Wuhan to Darwin has been delayed after Chinese officials refused to grant it permission for takeoff.
Hundreds of Australian citizens and permanent residents had gone to Wuhan airport ready to take the flight before the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told them to return home.
The department told them via email that it had not received official clearance from China for the flight.
The Australians had been due to fly to Darwin today after Health Minister Greg Hunt announced a disused workers' village near Darwin would become Australia's second coronavirus quarantine station.
More than 270 evacuees are already in quarantine at the Christmas Island Detention Centre.
But with that facility at capacity the Government has decided to bring the next lot of evacuees to the Manigurr-ma accommodation village at Howard Springs, about 30km south of Darwin.
The $600 million village includes a 50-seat cinema, swimming pool, library, outdoor beach volleyball court, cardio and spin room, commercial style gym, 2700 metre running track, music room, basketball and tennis courts, cricket nets, sports oval, commercial kitchen and dining hall, internet room, tavern and shop.
Its 875 accommodation units include 3500 bedrooms with ensuites.
They were due to arrive early this morning (Saturday), but are now awaiting a revised departure time.
DFAT has told the Australians it is working with Chinese authorities to have the plane depart later today. (Saturday)
The latest evacuees can expect far better conditions in Darwin than those being experienced on Christmas Island.
The workers' camp includes a host of facilities including a 50-seat cinema, tennis courts, swimming pool and a medical centre.
It was selected on the advice of AUSMAT and Defence officials.
At Christmas Island there have been some complaints about the cleanliness of the detention centre, it's lack of internet service and the quality of the food.
But bulk supplies dropped by a Defence plane on Friday saw evacuees dining out on curries and fresh vegetables.
None of the evacuees on Christmas Island have contracted coronavirus.
They are being held in quarantine for 14 days before they can return home.
Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said those staying at the Howard Springs facility were unlikely to become infectious and their health would be closely monitored.
"It is important people living in and around Howard Springs know the novel coronavirus can only be transmitted by close contact with an infectious person and cannot be spread through the air," he said.
"The health and safety of the Howard Springs community is of paramount importance and I am confident the security and public health measures put in place will prevent any risk to the community's health."
But the move is facing community opposition with locals suggesting the empty Wickham Point Detention Centre - which sits in a far more isolated location - should be used instead.
The Manigurr-ma village is near the small town of Howard Springs and a private school.
It is also just a short drive from Darwin's satellite city, Palmerston, home to about 30,000 people.
Gerard Maley - who is standing for election for the Country Liberal Party - said locals were concerned about having the evacuees in a built up area.
"In the interests of community safety the Northern Territory Government should be talking to the Federal Government about the former detention facility at Wickham Point as a possible site for a quarantine facility for the coronavirus, not the (Manigurr-ma) Inpex village which is located right beside a school and has an Aboriginal residential housing area opposite," he said.
"There is no reason to place a quarantine facility in a built up area when there is another facility that is purpose built, such as the Wickham Point Detention facility which has approximately 750 beds and its own hospital, in a more remote location."
Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said the evacuees would be tested before flying out of China and none showing symptoms of coronavirus would be allowed in.
He sought to reassure the community there was no increased risk of infection with the evacuees at the village.
"There will be no health risk to the general public," he said.
Mr Gunner said the first evacuees were expected to arrive on the weekend.
They will be accompanied on their flight by an AUSMAT medical team which will then be based at the village.
The evacuees will not be allowed to leave the village but if one does contract coronavirus they will be taken to an isolated room at Royal Darwin Hospital for treatment.
Defence personnel were inspecting the village on Friday while contractors had been called in to clean more than 600 airconditioners.
Deputy Chief Health Officer Di Stephens said the workers' village was an ideal facility.
"This particular facility is perfectly suited for a quarantine type of event," she said.
"The evacuees will be housed in very comfortable and humane conditions with access to recreation and good well being during their 14 days of quarantine.
The first fatality was reported on January 11.
The death toll has since soared to 636, with 73 more reported on Friday and an additional 3000 new infections.
China reported 31,161 cases in mainland China in its update on Friday.
The rise of 3143 was the lowest daily increase since at least Tuesday.
The director-general of the World Health Organisation says a drop in the number of new virus cases for two days is "good news" but cautions against reading too much into that.
Mr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke on Friday at a technical briefing to the UN health agency's executive board.
"The numbers could go up again … but the last two days were showing a declining trend," he said.
FAMILY OF WHISTLEBLOWER DOCTOR GETS PAYOUT
The Chinese public has accused its government of trying to cover up the death of Dr Li Wenliang who tried to raise the alarm about the severity of the coronavirus outbreak.
Dr Li was an ophthalmologist who posted photos of himself on social media suffering from the illness. His passing has triggered an outpouring of grief and criticism against the Chinese communist government.
Dr Li was trying to warn people about the SARS-like virus but he was reprimanded by the state for spreading "fake news" and silenced by police.
Wuhan officials have paid out the family of the "heroic" doctor to the tune of 820,000 yuen or $A174,000.
The payment was as compensation for his deadly illness as "a work injury."
The CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a statement that it promised a thorough investigation into Dr Li, who died of coronavirus after being infected by one of his patients.
The doctor leaves behind his pregnant wife who is expecting their second child, their five-year-old son, and his elderly parents, according to media.
AUSSIES TRAPPED ON CRUISE SHIP
Australian couple in lockdown on a coronavirus-quarantined cruise ship in Japan "guessed something was really wrong" at a port visit to Okinawa last weekend.
Everyone on board was ordered to disembark for mandatory temperature checks and walk through a disinfectant pad, a process that took all day with long queues, said Diamond Princess passengers Ellis and Kimberly Vincent.
Then the captain announced he had been asked by Japanese authorities to hasten the ship's journey to Yokohama, near Tokyo.
"Everything was good until Okinawa," relates Mr Vincent, 76, a retired airline freight executive.
"But in Okinawa it turned pear-shaped and it's proceeded to go from bad to worse."
That trend continued on Friday with an announcement from Japan's Health Ministry that another 41 passengers tested positive for coronavirus, taking the total number of cases from the vessel to 61. The figure includes seven Australians.
All those infected have disembarked and been taken to hospitals in the Yokohama area.
The original manifest for the two-week cruise had 2666 passengers, including 223 Australians, and 1045 crew.
It set off from Yokohama on January 20 with port calls in Kagoshima, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Taiwan and Okinawa.
The coronavirus alarm was sounded after an 80-year-old man who disembarked in Hong Kong a few days into the cruise tested positive.
The Diamond Princess is now subject to a two-week quarantine order, docked in Yokohama.
Mrs Vincent, 73, says the ship's captain makes regular announcements over a loud speaker they can hear in their cabin, including updates on the number of infected passengers and crew.
"We are just hoping there are no new cases outside the group that were tested," she said.
On Friday, the captain informed passengers that the prescription medication that many people have requested has been delivered to the ship and was set to be distributed.
Mrs Vincent is an urgent case as she only has a few days' supply remaining of a medicine she needs to treat a potentially fatal condition.
Mr Vincent also needs medication, as do many of the elderly passengers on board.
His wife, who has dual United States-Australian citizenship, said she plans to ask the Australian Embassy in Tokyo for help if her medicine does not arrive.
The couple live in the New South Wales town of Banora Point.
They said they have been disappointed by what they describe as a slow response from Australian authorities to their situation.
In an email sent on Thursday, the Embassy "apologised for not contacting us earlier," relates Mrs Vincent.
The message, sent to all the quarantined Australians, advises recipients to make themselves known to cruise ship staff if they have concerns about their health or medication.
It acknowledges that those stuck on board find themselves in a "frustrating and difficult" situation.
"We … are working with all involved to address this unusual set of circumstances as best as possible," the email continues.
Mrs Vincent said she understands that some passengers with serious health problems unrelated to coronavirus have also been taken off the ship "because the stress of all this has affected them".
Everyone on board received thermometers on Friday with instructions to check their own temperatures.
If they record 37.5 degrees Celsius or above, they are being asked to notify ship staff immediately.
While the Vincents have a balcony cabin that opens to the outside, those without that can access a promenade deck as long as they wear face masks, stay one metre apart, and not congregate in groups.
Mrs Vincent, a retired company manager, said she is keeping occupied with books, sudoku, television, email and Skype calls.
Everyone on board has access to internet and Wi-Fi.
Meals are being delivered to cabin doors and Friday's breakfast for the Vincents included scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, yoghurt, juice, croissants, muffins, fresh apple and hot coffee.
Mr Vincent looks set to celebrate his 77th birthday on board the Diamond Princess on February 17, towards the end of the quarantine period.
In the meantime there are many more days confined to their cabin as the couple waits for further news.
"I hope this is the end of it," Mr Vincent said of the latest round of cases.
"But with this virus, you just don't know."
ROYAL CARIBBEAN PASSENGERS HOSPITALISED
The Royal Caribbean cruise ship on which dozens of people were screened for coronavirus docked in New Jersey on Friday morning local time - and four passengers were rushed to Newark's University Hospital "out of caution," officials said.
A brief clip tweeted by NBC 4 New York reporter Tracie Strahan shows two people being removed from the Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas and loaded onto waiting ambulances at the Cape Liberty Cruise Port in Bayonne.
One of the four travellers who had come from China for the Caribbean cruise - and are now hospitalised - had a fever on the cruise, Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis told NBC New York.
The fever went away with Tylenol, he said.
HAPPENING NOW: The Anthem of the Seas cruise ship is back in Bayonne where more than 2 dozen Chinese nationals on board will be screened for the Coronavirus. We’re Live with details @NBCNewYork #nbc4ny pic.twitter.com/SpVixircRM— Tracie Strahan (@tstrahan4NY) February 7, 2020
Three others are under observation at the hospital, which has negative-pressure isolation rooms, according to Davis.
According to the New York Post, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and health officials removed 23 other Chinese nationals after the ship docked.
Those passengers will be taken to Newark Liberty International Airport for a flight back to China, according to a report by NBC.
None of the 27 people are from Wuhan - where the virus first appeared - or had travelled there since the start of the outbreak, the outlet reported.
In a statement early Friday, Royal Caribbean said it is "participating in elevated levels of guest screening" to combat the spread of the virus.
No one in New York or New Jersey is confirmed to have the virus - but two people are being tested in the city.
Meanwhile, the MS Westerdam has been blocked from docking amid coronavirus fears.
Four countries have turned away the cruise ship carrying more than 2000 people over coronavirus fears - even though the crew insists no one on board is infected, according to new reports.
Holland America's MS Westerdam has been prohibited from docking in Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and the US territory of Guam, the Daily Mail reported.