Chaos reigned at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport today amid the cancellation of flights from China due to coronavirus fears.
It comes amid revelations a Monash University staffer is one of the state’s four confirmed coronavirus patients.
Flights from China to Australia were rapidly cancelled yesterday just hours after the Prime Minister announced foreigners travelling from China would be banned from entering the country.
At least seven flights due to land in Melbourne from China today have been cancelled.
Last night three flights from Guangzhou, and one each from Shenzhen, Qingdao, Xiamen Hangzhou and Changsha Haikou Meilan were cancelled.
The ban caused chaos at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport this morning with a string of flights to and from the country cancelled.
MONASH UNI STAFF MEMBER CONTRACTS CORONAVIRUS
A coronavirus patient has been confirmed as a Monash University staff member.
Monash University Vice-Chancellor Margaret Gardner told ABC radio that a part time staffer had contracted the virus.
“To the best of our knowledge he is fine,” she told the ABC.
“He is a member of staff who is not full time employed with us so we don’t see him frequently on campus but we understand he is fine and we wish him all the best.”
Monash confirmed that a Professor with an “honorary affiliation” had a confirmed case of coronavirus.
The Professor had not been to the campus since late last year.
“We wish our Professor all the very best for a quick recovery and thank them for acting in accordance with advice in place by health authorities and recommended by the University,” a statement said.
The university has made swift decisions to call off Orientation Week activities, delay the semester launch by a week and host classes online until mid-March.
Ms Gardner said classes should return on the campus from March 16.
“There would have to be some other sort of overriding announcement about public health that would cause any change to that and we have no indication of that at present,” she said.
Ms Gardner said the university had about 27,000 international students and a campus in China, which has been shut down.
AIRPORT CHAOS AND CONFUSION
Passengers whose who have flights cancelled due to the Coronavirus precautions queued in the airport in the hope of returning to China through Hong Kong, which is not under Australia’s travel restrictions.
Concerned parents revealed their stress over whether their young children would be let back into Australia after spending time in the coronavirus stricken China.
Passengers from Shanghai filtered through into arrivals at Melbourne Airport after their China Eastern Airlines flight touched down this morning – one of the only flights from China not to be cancelled.
Melbourne couple Wenjun Lur and Zi Yuan Zhoun were visibly distressed as they waited for their two children get off the flight with their grandmother.
While the kids – six-year-old Harry and three-year-old Stephanie – are Australian citizens, Mr Zhoun explained that they were being held by immigration because their grandmother was not an Australian resident.
“We heard the news last night that the government was banning all Chinese residents except for Australian citizens, Australian PR and immediate family members,” he said.
“But from our understanding immediate family members should include our parents.
“Now the situation is my mum can’t get in because she is holding a travelling visa, immigration are saying they only allow for dependants and a spouse.”
“We’re worried. We asked the border force, they just said we had to be patient so we can’t do anything at the moment.
“The kids didn’t do anything, my mum can’t speak English.”
Ms Lur said that they are prepared to keep their family in isolation for two weeks to make sure they aren’t affected by the virus.
“I really want to help my family and I don’t understand,” she said.
“I am here and my husband is Australian, why can’t our parents come to Australia, I really don’t understand. They’re our immediate family
“They’re little kids, they can’t take flights by themselves so they have to fly with family.
“They were in Shanghai and they were isolated at home all the time, not going anywhere.
“I contacted my son’s school, they’ve applied absence for him already so he can be kept at home with my mom and my daughter for 14 days at least.
“So we are prepared but if they can’t come into Australia that’s another problem.”
After a stressful four hours in the airport, Wenjun Lur and Zi Yuan Zhoun, were finally reunited with their family after immigration allowed their children through with Mr Zhoun’s mother.
“We are so happy. They finally let them through, we are with our children and their grandmother now,” Ms Lur said.
“The worry is over.”
Passenger Lily Wu touched down in Melbourne Airport this morning from Shanghai.
Ms Wu said that despite fears surrounding the spread of coronavirus, people in China are trying to remain upbeat.
“It’s OK. Maybe [people] are a little but scared because the virus is horrible. Everyone stays at home and keeps [positive].
“[Our Chinese New Year celebrations] were just small family – like my husband and I and my kids – cooking some food and watching TV, relax and stay at home.
When asked how long she had been kept by security, Ms Wu responded: “No not for long. And everyone was very kind, the officers were very kind.
While nearly all flights into Australia from China have been cancelled, Ms Wu said she was not concerned about getting back into the country before she boarded her flight.
“We’ve got permanent visas so it was no problem and I checked [the flight] several times, so no problem,” she said.
One passenger, who said his name was Patrick, revealed that he was travelling home to Shanghai today with his family after spending over a month in Australia.
He said that while his family have some worries about coronavirus, he’s confident in returning to China.
“You can see all people are wearing masks, protecting themselves and protecting the community around them. We’re checking the news day by day,” he said.
“If you compare it 17 years ago to the Chinese government handling SARS, it’s very different this time. It’s very transparent.
“You can’t say people aren’t concerned, of course they’re concerned, but most people are getting a bit more comfort when you see the government is acting in a responsible way.
“I have quite a lot of friends here in Australia who have given me a lot of comfort and encouragement.
“My wife is a little bit more worried because of the kids but from my perspective, so far it’s OK.”
There was panic this morning as passengers tried to arrange alternative flights to get back to China.
One passenger, who did not wish to be named, was scheduled to travel back to China with her family on a flight to Shanghai, which had not yet been cancelled.
“We have no specific feeling about it, we just hope our flight won’t be cancelled,” she said.
“We want to go back to our own country because I feel there’s a lot of prejudice against us here.
“When we left China the virus hadn’t broken out so it’s safe for us to be here.
“But people look at us like we have it anyway. I think it’s totally unfair.”
As he was checking in for his flight to Shanghai – the only flight to mainland China to go ahead this morning – businessman Clement Li said he had no fear about flying to the country.
He said: “A lot of people feel very nervous about it but I feel OK.
“I don’t think it will be very serious, everything will be controlled by the government.
“That’s why I’m still going to China for my business trip. I’ll stay there for one month and then go back to Australia.”
Eric Tam was in the airport wishing his son Anson farewell as he returned to high school in Shanghai after a few weeks in Melbourne.
Eric said while the Coronavirus is “terrible”, he has no worries about his son returning to China.
“It will be OK. We feel good,” he said.
UNIVERSITY OFFERS ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS
International students blocked from arriving in Australia due to the coronavirus outbreak will be offered deferral, online tuition and special one-on-one study plans.
The latest decision to deny entry to Australia from China is set to hit university enrolments hard, with the teaching semester starting next month.
Monash University has already called off Orientation Week and will delay its semester launch by a week, with studies to run online from March 9.
Other universities are yet to announce their plans to contain the spread of the virus, which has killed more than 300 people.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said they would offer flexibility for international students with online study and deferred start dates.
“Our universities will continue to adhere meticulously to the advice of health and immigration authorities, while managing the impact for our students,” she said.
“Our focus is on safeguarding the health and safety of everyone in university communities, and minimising any disruption to study, exams and assessment.” The Universities Australia board will meet with Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan tomorrow to determine how to minimise the impact of the government’s new restrictions.
The Group of Eight (Go8) universities, which includes Monash University and the University of Melbourne, educates 63 per cent of students from China.
“Our universities are absolutely committed to our students from China completing their studies with minimal disruption and as soon as possible, while maintaining necessary safety precautions, and those students have been advised of this,” a Go8 statement read.
Chinese-Australian couple Phoebe Han and Cyprus Chen rushed to the airport last night when they heard news of the travel ban.
Phoebe’s mother, who is a Chinese national, was booked on a flight to Melbourne from Beijing to resume cancer treatment but the couple fear she may not be able to board.
“There’s been no information from the government, we don’t know if it’s business as usual or if they’ve been turning flights away,” Ms Han said.
“We’re really worried that she won’t be able to come back and resume her treatment.”
The Point Cook couple said when they heard the Prime Minister’s announcement they tried to find out if Phoebe’s mother would be able to enter the country as the close relative of an
Australian citizen, but the hotline rang out.
They are urging the government to give people like them a few days notice, and to be more specific about what the ban means in practical terms.
“They can’t just drop this bombshell on everyone without considering special circumstances,“ Mr Chen said.
“We just don’t know what to do.”
Ms Han said her mother was waiting in Beijing to find out if she should stay or to attempt to board her flight which was in a matter of hours.
The pair have sent her documentation proving her link to Australia, and said they would follow government advice and quarantine her when she arrived.
Student Hester Huang, 18, was in tears as she made her from arrivals after touching down in Melbourne from Guanzhau, on one of the last flights out of China.
“I’m so scared this is really crazy,” she said.
“Everyone is in face masks, I’ve never seen that before.”
Ms Huang, who arrived in Melbourne to start her final year of school, said she will quarantine herself for two weeks to avoid any risk to others.
FOURTH VICTORIAN CASE
A woman in her 20s yesterday became Victoria’s fourth confirmed case of novel coronavirus.
Six days after returning from Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, the woman was yesterday confirmed as having the illness and isolated in her Melbourne home.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton issued an alert outlining the latest confirmed coronavirus case this morning, stating it was not believed the woman had posed any risk of spreading the virus since flying into Melbourne on January 25.
Because the woman only became unwell while at home on January 27 – two days after her flight – health authorities do not believe she was infectious while travelling.
After being seen by doctors at a Melbourne hospital on Thursday the woman was deemed to be healthy enough to remain at home, where she has not had any visitors since returning to Victoria.
As well as having four confirmed coronavirus infections all with links to China’s Hubei province in the last week, Victorian health authorities are still awaiting results for another 13 pending cases.
Tests have cleared a further 149 people in Victoria.
Travellers were plunged into further confusion as the Australian government announced strict new rules for anyone travelling from China.
Only Australian citizens and permanent residents coming from China will be able to enter the country.
The decision comes as a fourth case of coronavirus had been confirmed in Victoria, while about 200 have died in China from the disease.
The government has also escalated its travel advice for China to its highest level yet, issuing a “do not travel” warning due to the deadly virus.
Many travellers were seen wearing face masks at Melbourne airport today as safety fears reached new heights.
One Point Cook woman, while running from the departures terminal in the pouring rain, told the Sunday Herald Sun that she was wearing a mask because she was worried about those around her.
“I’m a doctor and I have two kids at home,” she said as she rushed towards the car park.
Chinese national Jing Hui, 32, was heading to the airport to board a flight to his home city of Shen Zhen, in southeastern China as the news of the travel ban was announced.
“I understand (why they’re doing that), but I don’t think it’s a very complex response,” he said.
“We can protect against the virus. and it’s better for two countries to communicate and work together to stop the illness rather than this.”
Meanwhile other travellers, like one Box Hill man returning home from an interstate holiday who preferred not to be named, said he understood the logic behind the decision.
“It makes sense to contain the virus overseas and protect our own borders,” he said.
New Zealander Glenn Langford said the sight of many fellow travellers wearing face masks was an anxiety inducing sight.
“Everywhere I go there’s people in masks, it makes me wonder if I should have one on,” he said.
Student Gloria Zhang, 20, had just landed in Melbourne from Shanghai for the start of the University semester.
She said she was “worried” she wouldn’t be able to get a flight to Australia because of the uncertainly surrounded the Coronavirus.
“In China everyone is talking about the Coronavirus especially on WeChat, and there are lots of rumours around,” she said.
“I’m worried about if I’m infected, I just can’t know it’s possible, so I’m going to stay inside maybe for two weeks.”
Despite the travel ban causing difficulties for other international students like her returning to study Ms Zhang supports the new restrictions.
“It’s a good decision, you have to stop the spread of the virus,” she said.