Christmas Island lockdown for stranded Aussies

AN urgent meeting of Australia's chief medical officers will be held this afternoon after overseas reports of the Coronavirus transferring between people before they show symptoms.

Australia is also requesting China allow an evacuation of Australians in the locked-down Hubei province, who will then be quarantined in Christmas Island for two weeks.

There are about 600 Australians in Hubei, but only the vulnerable, young and elderly, are expected to be evacuated.

There are now more than 6000 cases of the disease that have been confirmed, including 84 outside China and five in Australia.

There have been 132 deaths, mostly of elderly or people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said two cases in Japan and Germany may have involved transfer of the disease before symptoms were showing, but this was yet to be confirmed.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Qantas will help with the evacuation of Australians in Wuhan City. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Qantas will help with the evacuation of Australians in Wuhan City. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

"There is a suggestion that contrary to all of the previous expert advice that some people may have transmitted the virus just before they became symptomatic," Prof Murphy said.

"The normal advice has been with these viruses that you need to be symptomatic to be infectious.

"We're convening an urgent meeting of all of our expert groups this afternoon to reconsider whether our medical advice should be changed and look at the voracity of those cases."

But he said there were no examples of person-to-person transference of the disease in Australia.

"The public should go about their business, reassured that the risk to them is extremely low," he said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said one million medical masks from Australia's stockpile were being released for general practice doctor's offices.

"We have now a supply of 21.5 million masks, 12 may have million P2 masks and 9 million surgical masks which are on the advice the appropriate masks for this particular type of action," he said.

Australia's travel advice to China is "reconsider your need to travel" and "do not travel" to Hubei province, which is the epicentre of the outbreak.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was working closely with Beijing and was seeking permission to evacuate vulnerable Australians trapped in Wuhan City, which was locked down last week in a bid to contain the disease.

"This is for those who have been there who do not have an established support infrastructure in where they're living," he said.

"They would have been shorter term travellers to that area, they would not have been living there for many years and we're particularly focused on the more vulnerable components of that population.

"That's young people, particularly infants, and those who are elderly and that would be our priority in any operation we're able to put in place."

He said Qantas would assist with the operation, if given approval to go ahead, while the evacuated people would be kept on Christmas Island for two weeks quarantine - the incubation period of the new coronavirus.

"But that will be subject to the medical advice we receive and that will obviously be a condition for those who would seek to take part in this arrangement," Mr Morrison said.

"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."

Australian Medical Assistance Teams (AUSMAT) will be in place on Christmas Island to provide any necessary medical support and assessment.

The operation will be done in conjunction with the New Zealand Government.



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