Residents in the Darwin suburb of Howard Springs now have a large contingent of new neighbours — 266 people flown in from the coronavirus epicentre.
- Evacuees are currently being screened in Darwin after being evacuated from the Coronavirus epicentre this morning
- The NT’s acting chief health officer told local residents there is no risk of transmission
- The flight landed at Darwin’s RAAF base shortly before midday local time
The Australian evacuees, who flew into Darwin on Sunday after delays leaving Wuhan, were transferred to an unused workers’ camp in the suburb, 30 kilometres south-east of Darwin’s CBD.
The cohort was subject to rigorous biomedical screening between China and Australia, with tests conducted before take-off, twice during the flight and once the flight had landed in Darwin.
The 266 people — including 77 children and 11 babies — will be quarantined for 14 days in the facility.
Despite reassurances from health authorities that the community faces no risk from the evacuees, some residents, citing the proximity of the quarantine village to a school and nearby residents, are concerned infection could leak into the community.
School principal holds information session for parents
The principal at the nearby Good Shepherd Lutheran College, Rachel Boyce, said the reaction from parents at the school had been mixed. Some parents, she said, had opted to keep their children at home.
“We have been overwhelmed in the last few days with messages of support and encouragement for the school,” she said.
“We also have some parents who are concerned and are voicing that.”
Health Department FB post
On Monday morning the school live streamed an information session with Dianne Stephens from the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre.
Before the meeting Trevor Willis, a parent of three students at the school, said he was confident his children were safe.
“I think there’s a few unanswered questions from concerned parents, but I’m sure any fears will be allayed [at the meeting],” he said.
“I think we’ve got it under control.”
“We’ve got the facility here, people are in need, and why can’t the Territory help out when it needs to?”
Trevor Willis said his three children were attending school on Monday. (ABC News: Kate Ashton)
He said his children had not expressed any apprehension about attending school.
“They’re quite keen to go — they don’t feel as though there’s any threat or anything like that,” he said.
On Monday morning Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly “categorically” reaffirmed the safety of the public and students around the quarantine zone.
“If I had children in the Lutheran college close to the [workers’] site, I would have no hesitation with my kids going to school today or over the next two weeks,” Professor Kelly said.
“And if I was living next door or had a business next door, I would have absolutely no hesitation in going there and working there without any protection at all.
266 evacuees, including 77 children and 11 infants, were aboard the Qantas plane. (ABC News: Clara Latter)
‘There’s a worry for the kids’
On Sunday local resident Joan Maddalozzo, whose grandchildren attend a school hundreds of metres away from the village, was aghast authorities had signed off on the plan to house evacuees so close to the school.
Residents like Joan Maddalozzo say the safety of nearby schoolchildren is not worth the risk. (ABC News: Matt Garrick)
“I disagree with it totally,” she said.
“There’s a school of kids right next door. Why would you do that? There must be more remote places you could put these people.”
Ms Maddalozzo said the plan was “stupid”.
“My grandchildren go to that school right next door. That’s enough. That says it all for me,” she said.
Video: The Manigurr-ma camp outside Darwin is expected to be used for coronavirus evacuees
Another resident, Monique Reid, was also concerned for the welfare of schoolchildren.
Although authorities have stated the facility will be guarded and monitored 24 hours a day by police and security staff, Ms Reid said there was a threat those quarantined could break out of the facility and pose a risk.
“They’re saying that they’re being contained [in the camp] but who knows, someone can always break out of it if they have enough of being locked up,” she said.
“They don’t actually know if anyone can break out of the place or not, and they’ve put it next to a school, so if anyone walks out there’s a worry for the kids if they would get infected.”
‘People are sympathetic’
While another resident, Stephen Sewell, conceded he would’ve preferred a more remote quarantine operation, he said he had faith the community would remain safe.
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“They need to go somewhere,” he said.
“I trust that [the Government] know the right thing, knowing the containment areas and everything like that.”
Mr Sewell said people were worried, perhaps unnecessarily, about the quarantine process.
“It’s right next to a school. It’s in Howard Springs. [But] a lot of people don’t know enough about the virus,” he said.
“People are sympathetic that these people need somewhere to be and need to be quarantined but I don’t think they feel adequate measures have been taken.”
Gordon Jabour said the evacuation effort was “without a doubt” a good opportunity for Darwin to play its part in the response to coronavirus.
Video: The vacant Inpex camp south of Darwin
He said he “didn’t have an issue” with the 266 evacuees nearby.
“I’ve heard concern about it but as far as I understand I don’t think the concern is justified. I don’t think it’s a real issue,” he said.
Ian Campbell said he felt safe in the knowledge evacuees were “fairly well isolated form everybody”.
Ian Campbell said he had no concerns about the risk of a potential virus outbreak. (ABC News: Matt Garrick)
“They’re not sick by all accounts, and it’s only a precaution,” he said.
After misinformation spread across social media last week, such as the myth dispelled by medical professionals that coronavirus could spread via mosquitoes, Mr Campbell said there had been an “overreaction” to the dangers of the virus in some pockets of the community.
Willie Coots flagged concern that workers sporadically leaving the quarantine centre could pose a risk, saying “they would need to be scrutinised very strictly” to ensure potential infection is contained.
“That’s about the only other problem that would be, is that anyone who works in that areas is going to have to be well and truly scrutinised in and out,” he said.
“We don’t want them coming in here and working up there and they haven’t been through [screening and testing for the virus].”
“It’s just one of those things, we’re the frontier, and we’ve got to look after it,” Mr Coots said. (ABC News: Matt Garrick)
‘No risk to the community’: Chief medical officer
The Australian Government’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, said all of the 266 people aboard the flight had been screened four times before they left China and were “all clinically well”.
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Eight people of the 266 people evacuated are students from the Pacific Islands who were allowed on the plane on humanitarian grounds, and 258 are Australians.
He said he was “absolutely confident that all precautions had been taken to ensure there was no risk to the community”.
“We know that these people who are being quarantined there are actually well at the moment and there’s a very large barrier from where they’ll be and anyone in the community,” he said.
He said anyone who might develop the virus would be immediately transported to Royal Darwin Hospital.
The arrival of Australian evacuees in Darwin came just hours after the coronavirus death toll in mainland China rose to 811, surpassing the number of fatalities in the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak.
The first non-Chinese fatalities from coronavirus also occurred on the weekend: an American in Wuhan and a Japanese man died after contracting the virus.
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