Parents of some of the Australian children trapped in the Chinese city of Wuhan amid the deadly coronavirus outbreak have aired their concerns about the Government’s Christmas Island evacuation plan.
Some families said they would prefer to stay in Wuhan — the epicentre of virus that has infected more than 7,000 and killed 170 — rather than send their children to the Christmas Island offshore immigration detention centre.
The families also told the ABC they would be charged $1,000 per person to evacuate.
The ABC has confirmed at least 140 Australian children are stuck in Wuhan, which has been on lockdown since January 23.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday announced the Government would evacuate Australians at risk of coronavirus in China’s Hubei province to Christmas Island to be quarantined for two weeks.
While the families stressed they were very grateful to the Morrison Government for quickly formulating a plan to evacuate them from Wuhan, they feared the facilities at the Christmas Island immigration detention centre were not child friendly.
The families also emphasised the broader public health of Australians was a top priority for them.
A selfie of a woman and her two children.
Adelaide man Wenbo Yu, whose wife and two children are in Wuhan, said his family was considering rejecting the Government’s evacuation offer.
“We’d rather they stay in Wuhan,” Mr Yu told the ABC.
Sydney mother Liu, who asked to be known by her surname, said after reading the news about Christmas Island, her daughter asked if they had “done something wrong”.
Sydney woman Wu, who also gave her surname only, said she felt conflicted.
Melbourne father Xu Yi’s baby daughter Chloe is trapped in Wuhan with her grandparents. He said his whole family was very grateful to the Federal Government’s decision to evacuate citizens.
“However, being quarantined at the detention centre may not be a plan that suits my family,” Mr Xu told the ABC.
“My daughter is only six months old. I am very concerned about the medical facilities and hygiene condition of the detention centre.”
While the majority of parents had concerns about Mr Morrison’s evacuation plan, many told the ABC they were willing to take up the offer.
“We are all very positive about it, we trust the Government and trust our country,” one mother, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.
Families say they’ll be charged ‘$1,000 per person’
Speaking to the ABC, 10 parents said Australian authorities told them they would have to pay $1,000 per person — including infants and toddlers — for their flights.
They said they had received a phone call from the Australian Consulate in Shanghai and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
In a statement given to the ABC, DFTAT said: “It is standard practice going back many years that in cases where the Government undertakes an assisted departure, Australians are required to make a contribution to the cost of their repatriation.
“This was the case for example in the assisted departure by air charter from Cairo during the Arab Spring in 2011, and the Lebanon conflict in 2006.”
The ABC understands that the fee for evacuation will not include domestic transportation in China and Australia, where citizens will have to arrange their own travel before and after the quarantine.
Many parents said it will be “impossible” to get to the Wuhan airport from their homes, given the city banned both public and private transport last week.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has confirmed people will have to pay an amount for the evacuation, without specifying the cost, but not for the time they spend on Christmas Island.
Australian citizens who used a Chinese passport to enter China will not be able to get evacuated, according to parents who received the call.
It is still unclear if parents with permanent residency can board the plane. One family said they were told by DFAT that the Australian consulate officers are still negotiating with Chinese authorities, who will make the decision.
The parents were told any passenger whose body temperature was above 37.3 degrees Celsius will be blocked from boarding the plane, and that children under 16 years old must be accompanied by a parent to evacuate.
Permanent residents are concerned they may not be able to be evacuated with their children who are citizens.
The ABC understands that at least 50 children are under five years old, and nine are under the age of two.
Citizens discharged from the detention centre will be sent to Perth, before they manage their own travel home, they told the ABC.
The Christmas Island detention facility was re-opened in March last year in response to medevac laws allowing sick asylum seekers to be brought to Australia for treatment.
That legislation was not backed by the Government and was repealed in December.
The detention facility remained open and since August has housed a Tamil family of four from Biloela, pending a legal challenge to their deportation.
The family will be kept in a separate section of the facility, away from Australians in Wuhan under quarantine.
Some families also feared their children would face racism due to the coronavirus and stigma if they were quarantined at the Christmas Island detention facility.
A petition has collected more than 43,000 signatures from the Chinese-Australian community, asking for a public apology from the Herald Sun and Daily Telegraph for their “Chinese virus panda-monium” image.