Tight measures taken in Britain, Papua, Australia

Agence France-Presse | Published: 15:18, Jan 29,2020 | Updated: 15:19, Jan 29,2020


Thai Airways taken on January 28, 2020 and received on January 29, 2020 shows staff disinfecting an aircraft at the airline’s hangar in Bangkok, as a measure aimed at preventing the spread of novel coronavirus. — AFP photo

British Airways on Wednesday said that it had suspended all its flights to and from China owing to the deadly coronavirus.

‘We have suspended all flights to and from mainland China with immediate effect following advice from the UK Foreign Office against all but essential travel,’ BA said in a statement.

Papua New Guinea shut air and seaports to all foreign travellers coming from Asia on Wednesday, in a desperate bid to prevent the deadly coronavirus from reaching the impoverished Melanesian nation.

In a note to airlines and boat operators, the ministry of immigration said ‘all citizens originating from the Asian ports will be refused entry to the country effective today’.

The ministry also announced that Papua New Guinea’s only official land border — with Indonesian-controlled Papua province — would be shut from Thursday.

No cases of coronavirus have been reported in Papua New Guinea, but the country’s health service is already buckling under the weight of underfunding and rampant public health problems.

Papua New Guinea is one of only a handful of countries where polio is still endemic, leaving doctors and the United Nations scrambling to revive long-lapsed vaccination programmes.

Papua New Guinea residents returning from Asian countries will be held in quarantine for 14 days.

It will only be possible for anyone to leave or enter the country via Port Moresby’s international airport.

Most flights into the airport are domestic, or from Australia. But officials told AFP that arrivals from Chinese cities, Singapore and any other Asian cities would also be affected.

It was not clear how long the measures will be in effect.

‘This is a preventative measure taken to ensure the spread of the coronavirus that is rapidly spreading in the world is minimised,’ immigration and border security minister Westly Nukundi Nukundj said.

Australia, meanwhile, plans to evacuate its citizens from the epicentre of the deadly virus outbreak in China and quarantine them on an island normally used to detain asylum seekers, according to proposals unveiled Wednesday.

Prime minister Scott Morrison said ‘vulnerable’ Australians — including children and the elderly — and short-term visitors to Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province would be prioritised in extraction efforts.

Officials said about 600 Australians were known to be in the area, which has been locked down in an effort to contain the spread of the virus.

Morrison said Australia was working with New Zealand on the operation and would seek to help Pacific nations evacuate their citizens where possible but his ‘first priority right now is the safety of Australians’.

‘I stress there is rather a limited window here and we are moving very, very swiftly to ensure we can put this plan together and put the operation together,’ Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

‘I stress that this will be done on a last-in, first-out basis.’

Morrison said they would be held in quarantine for 14 days on Christmas Island, known for its notorious immigration detention centre used to detain asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat.

‘The defence forces have been tasked to identify overflow facilities where that may be necessary and also to provide whatever logistical and other support is necessary to support the operations on Christmas Island,’ he added.

He also sought to downplay expectations about how many Australians could be evacuated from Wuhan.

‘I want to stress that we cannot give a guarantee that this operation is able to succeed and I also want to stress very clearly that we may not be in a position if we’re able to do this on one occasion to do it on another occasion,’ he said.

Foreign minister Marise Payne said Australia was seeking permission from Chinese authorities to allow its citizens to depart Wuhan, with Australian consular officials travelling from Shanghai to coordinate the efforts.

Japan and the United States have already evacuated hundreds of citizens from Wuhan.

The virus, which is believed to have originated in a market trading in wild animals in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, has infected nearly 6,000 people in China and killed more than 130.

Australian health officials on Wednesday announced a 60-year-old man had been diagnosed with the virus, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the country to six.

All six have received medical treatment and are said to be in a stable condition. There have so far been no confirmed cases in Australia of human-to-human transmission.

Australia has warned its citizens not to visit Wuhan and on Wednesday upgraded its travel advice for China, recommending people ‘reconsider’ their need to travel. People returning to Australia from Hubei province have been told they should self-quarantine at home for 14 days.

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