Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has instructed visitors to that island nation to go home.
“If they’re not in a position to be able to support themselves, then there is the alternative for them to return to their home countries," he said, addressing the nation.
"We still have quite a number of people here on visitor visas. As much as it’s lovely to have visitors to Australia in good times, at times like this, if you’re a visitor in this country, it is time, as it has been now for some while, and I know many visitors have, to make your way home. And to ensure that you can receive the supports that are available where they are, in your home countries. At this time Australia must focus on its citizens and its residents to ensure that we can maximize the economic supports that we have.”
Morrison last year defended the reopening of Australia’s Christmas Island as a detention centre for refugees, which was the largest humanitarian crisis at the time. At the time he was criticized for opening the island back up, but he said then that “We’ll continue to always take the strongest decisions to ensure our borders remain secure.”
One of his detractors, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, was sure that the move to secure Australia’s borders was misguided. “Whether it’s in our turn backs, whether it’s in offshore processing or whether it’s with Christmas Island, we are absolutely focused on ensuring there is no repeat of Labor’s disastrous border protection policies,” he said.
“You could see it the other way around, which is, the so-called emergency that everyone was talking about hasn’t actually eventuated,” Frydenberg said.
In January 2020, Morrison announced that Christmas Island and the medical facilities there would be used as an evacuation spot for “isolated and vulnerable” Australians who were returning home from the city of Wuhan and Hubei province after the coronavirus outbreak ravaged that region.
After the lockdown on Wuhan was lifted on Wednesday, flights are set to resume to Australia from that region. The first cargo flight is expected to land in Sydney today. The plane is reportedly carrying medical equipment and personal protective equipment, and will be unloaded separately. Crew are expected to remain in self-quarantine before flying back to Wuhan on Thursday.
At time of writing there have been 50 deaths from the contagion in Australia, with over 6,000 cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus, 1,080 of which have recovered. Social distancing measures are in place, per the National Cabinet, and Australians are advised not to travel on for non-essential purposes through Easter.