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Coronavirus

Australia eyes 2nd Wuhan flight as evacuees land on home soil

First plane's 241 passengers quarantined on remote Christmas Island

Funeral parlor staff in protective suits help a colleague with disinfection after they transferred a body at a hospital following the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan.   © Reuters

SYDNEY/WELLINGTON (Reuters) -- Australia may arrange a second evacuation flight out of China's Wuhan city, the epicentre of the coronavirus, after a first plane load of its citizens arrived on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday.

Some 241 passengers on the initial flight will be quarantined for two weeks on the remote Australia-run island, about 1,400 km (870 miles) northwest of mainland Australia.

A Qantas Airways Ltd 747 carrying the evacuees and Department of Health officials landed at a military airbase north of Perth, where passengers were transferred to two smaller planes for the flight to Christmas Island. The first of the chartered flights landed on Christmas Island on Tuesday morning.

"All Australians who were on our flight out of Wuhan have arrived safely," Morrison said in a series of posts on his verified Twitter account, calling the evacuation a "complex and very challenging operation".

"We are now working with the Chinese authorities on a possible second assisted departure flight for Australians seeking to leave Wuhan," Morrison added.

Australia has said it plans to keep evacuees on Christmas Island for two weeks, the maximum incubation period of the newly identified virus which has sparked a global health emergency and killed more than 400 people in China, mostly in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.

Morrison said Australia had also been working with New Zealand to share some seats on a plane organised by its trans-Tasman neighbour.

An evacuation flight chartered by Air New Zealand Ltd is scheduled to leave Wuhan late on Tuesday, Wuhan time, with 70 New Zealanders and an unspecified number of Australians on board and was expected to arrive in Auckland on Wednesday, the airline said.

Australian citizens on the flight would be transferred from Auckland to Christmas Island, the New Zealand government has said.

In addition to the 241 evacuees taken to Christmas Island, Morrison said two passengers on the Qantas flight, a pregnant woman and her partner, "have been transferred to Perth and are in isolation there".

Wuhan in Hubei province has been in lockdown to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed 414 people in the province. The first death from the virus outside China was reported on Sunday in the Philippines.

There were 600 Australians registered in the Hubei region as of last week.

Australia on Saturday followed the United States in barring entry to all foreign nationals travelling from mainland China and raised its travel warning for China to the highest level, advising people against visiting the country at all.

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