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    Australia plans island quarantine as foreigners leave Wuhan

    January 29, 2020

    Hundreds of foreign nationals are being evacuated from Wuhan, the centre of China's coronavirus outbreak, as more deaths and cases were confirmed.
    Australia plans to quarantine its evacuees on Christmas island 2,000km (1,200 miles) from the mainland.

    Japan, the US and the EU are also repatriating their citizens.

    British Airways has suspended all flights to and from mainland China, as the UK's Foreign Office warned against "all but essential travel" there.
    Several other airlines have taken similar measures. United Airlines and Cathay Pacific are restricting flights, while Lion Air - one of the region's biggest airlines - is stopping flights to China from Saturday.

    Cathay Pacific has also suspended inflight trolley services, changed some aspects of its meal offer, and stopped giving out hot towels, pillows, blankets and magazines in an effort to prevent the virus spreading.

    China's national women's football team is being quarantined in Australia after arriving there to play in an Olympic qualifying tournament, Australian media report.

    Australia 'to re-open' controversial detention centre
    13 February 2019
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    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    The Christmas Island detention centre operated from 2003-2018
    Australian PM Scott Morrison says he will re-open a controversial detention centre on Christmas Island, after a historic defeat in parliament.

    On Tuesday, non-government MPs secured enough votes to pass a bill making it easier for sick refugees held offshore to be treated in the country.

    Mr Morrison said the law would weaken the nation's tough border policies and embolden human traffickers.

    Opponents accused him of spreading fear before an impending election.

    Since 2013, Australia has sent asylum seekers arriving by boat to detention centres on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) and Nauru.

    It previously also sent detainees to Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean which is about 2,600km (1,600 miles) from the mainland and 300km south of Indonesia.

    The UN has criticised Australia's detention policies as "inhumane", but the nation insists they prevent human trafficking and save lives at sea.

    What led to Mr Morrison's announcement?
    Last year, Australians were horrified by reports of a mental health crisis among children on Nauru - including cases of attempted suicide.

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    It prompted the Labor opposition, the Greens and crossbench MPs to support a bill that gives doctors the power to recommend that refugees be transferred to Australia for treatment.

    However, the immigration minister would still have some authority to overrule transfers.


    Media captionA local politician says re-opening the detention centre is political scaremongering.
    Mr Morrison fiercely opposed the bill but it was narrowly approved in the House of Representatives, where the government does not have a majority. It later cleared the Senate.

    On Wednesday, Mr Morrison said the government would re-open the Christmas Island centre "to deal with the prospect of arrivals... and transfers" - arguing both were now more likely.

    He added that Australia's border protection operations would receive other additional resources, but declined to elaborate.

    "This parliament has already tipped its hand enough to the people smugglers," he said.

    Why is he being accused of fear-mongering?
    Opponents pointed out that the bill applies only to people already on Nauru and Manus Island, meaning new arrivals would not be eligible for transfer to Australia.

    Labor's Senate leader Penny Wong said Mr Morrison was playing politics ahead of the election, likely to be held in May.

    "[This is] a pattern of deceit and desperation from a man who is desperate to cling to office - a man who has nothing left, nothing left but deceit, fear and smear," she told the chamber on Wednesday.

    What happened at Christmas Island previously?
    The centre, which operated from 2003 until last year, saw numerous scenes of unrest - including riots, protests and brawls.

    In 2010, about 50 asylum seekers from Iraq and Iran died when their boat smashed onto rocks off the island.


    Media captionIn 2010, dozens of asylum seekers drowned off Christmas Island
    At its height, the centre held thousands of people. It closed in October when the final 35 detainees were removed.

    Thirty-two players and staff will stay in isolation in a hotel in Brisbane as a precaution until 5 February, officials said. The team, which passed through Wuhan last week, had been due to play Thailand on 3 February.

    How many cases are there?
    An expert from the Chinese National Health Commission (NHC) said it could take 10 more days for the outbreak to peak.

    The number of deaths from the virus has risen to 132 in China.

    Like the similar Sars and influenza viruses, the new coronavirus is a particular risk for elderly people and those with pre-existing illnesses.

    The sharp rise in cases is in part attributed to increased awareness, monitoring and testing in recent days.

    The number of cases of the new coronavirus has reached nearly 6,000 in China, surpassing the number of Sars cases in the country in the 2003 outbreak.

    The virus is thought to have emerged from illegally traded wildlife at a seafood market in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province.

    It causes severe acute respiratory infection and there is no specific cure or vaccine. A number of people, however, have recovered after treatment.

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    Who is being evacuated?
    Australia's 600 evacuees will be held on Christmas Island for two weeks, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

    The announcement sparked controversy as the island is best known for a recently reopened immigration detention centre, which was criticised for its conditions.

    Currently only housing one Sri Lankan family of four, the facility was built to accommodate more than 1,000 people.

    New Zealand will co-operate with Canberra to bring its 53 citizens home alongside the Australian evacuees.

    The Christmas Island controversy
    By Frances Mao, BBC News, Sydney

    For over a week now, the Australians trapped in Wuhan - many of them children - have been calling on their government to help get them out.

    But the announcement of a two-week quarantine on Christmas Island have given many pause for thought.

    The external territory - closer to Indonesia than the Australian mainland - has long had a bad reputation.

    Since 2003, it's been one of the main places offshore where Australia detains asylum seekers, in conditions criticised by the UN.

    But what will happen to the Sri Lankan family of four when others arrive? And are the medical facilities on the island adequate for the evacuees?

    Chinese-Australians are also asking why their children are being sent miles away, as opposed to hospitals on the mainland.

    Would this happen, they ask, to Australians who were holidaying in the UK?

    Some 200 Japanese nationals have been flown from Wuhan and have landed at Tokyo's Haneda airport.

    Around 650 others said they wanted to be repatriated, and the Japanese government said new flights were being planned.

    According to Japanese media, several of the returnees were suffering from fever or coughs. All will be taken to hospital, regardless of whether they are showing symptoms.

    They will then be tested in a quarantine ward before they can go home, and will be told not to leave their houses until the results are known.


    Media captionLike others who've been in Hubei province, the BBC's Stephen McDonell is staying away from the office for two weeks
    Also on Wednesday, 240 Americans - including workers the local US consulate - left the city.

    According to CNN, the evacuees might have to stay in isolation in an airport hangar for up to two weeks.

    The UK Foreign Office is arranging to evacuate some 200 British people who wanted to leave the area. But some UK citizens have criticised the government, claiming lack of support in returning home.

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    Separately, two aircraft to fly EU citizens home were scheduled, with 250 French nationals leaving on the first flight.

    South Korea said some 700 of its citizens would leave on four flights this week. Both Malaysia and the Philippines also said they would evacuate their citizens in and around Wuhan.

    Meanwhile, Hong Kong announced plans to slash cross-border travel between the city and mainland China.

    Wuhan - as well as the wider Hubei province - is already effectively in a lockdown with strict transport restrictions.

    Kazakhstan is closing all passenger travel with its neighbour and Papua New Guinea has announced that travellers from Asia will be barred from entering.

    What's the latest on the virus itself?
    Confirmations of person-to-person transmission in Germany, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan - as opposed to travellers bringing the virus from China - have heightened concern about the spread of the virus.

    The United Arab Emirates has confirmed the first cases in the Middle East - a family who had recently arrived in the country from Wuhan.

    Leading Chinese respiratory expert Zhong Nanshan told Xinhua news agency: "I think in one week or about 10 days, it will reach the climax and then there will be no large-scale increases."

    China has agreed that the World Health Organization (WHO) will send international experts to the country.

    President Xi met WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Beijing and said: "The virus is a devil and we cannot let the devil hide."

    Tales of solidarity from China's virus-hit Wuhan
    28 January 2020
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    Related TopicsCoronavirus outbreak
    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Image caption
    Keeping spirits up in virus-hit Wuhan
    As the number of coronavirus infections continues to grow, millions of people have gone into lockdown in Wuhan - the centre of the outbreak - to try to stop the virus spreading. But in this time of isolation some people are determined to raise each others' spirits.

    The neighbours who spread cheer
    The deadly outbreak comes as China celebrates one of the most important dates in its calendar - Lunar New Year.

    Imagine Christmas and Thanksgiving all rolled into one - typically a time filled with lots of cheer. For many, it's the only chance in a year they have to meet up with their family and exchange gifts of food and money.

    In Wuhan people have been encouraged to stay home to minimise the spread of the virus. But residents in a block of flats found a small way to cheer each other up.

    Videos circulating on social media show people shouting "Wuhan jiayou" out of their windows- roughly translated to "Stay strong Wuhan" or "Keep on going Wuhan".


    Media caption"Wuhan, add oil!": Watch residents shouting to boost morale in quarantined city
    The phrase is echoed across the block and residents can be heard cheering in the background.

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    It's also a cheer that's being repeated online.

    On social media site Weibo, the phrase "Wuhan jiayou" has been trending.

    Many across different parts of the country are posting the phrase in solidarity with Wuhan - where the majority of deaths as a result of the virus have occurred.

    "We will get through this. Wuhan jiayou, the whole country is supporting you," said one comment on Weibo.

    More than one hundred people - mostly in Wuhan - have now died as a result of the outbreak which has spread across China and internationally.

    Though there is plenty of fear and anger at the authorities on social media in China, state media has been highlighting kind acts and stories of residents banding together in Wuhan.

    The restaurant owner who packed 200 lunch boxes
    One new restaurant owner in Wuhan spent the Lunar New Year festival packing food for medical workers in the city, according to state news outlet Changjiang Daily.

    Li Bo had opened a restaurant in the city just a month ago. He sold his car and borrowed money in order to raise the funds for it.

    But before the 36-year-old could properly get his business started, the outbreak kicked in - leaving the streets of the city empty and his restaurant deserted.

    "I panicked. I lay at home worrying about how I was going to repay the loan," he told Changjiang Daily.

    "But then I saw [news] about how the medical staff in hospitals were struggling and I felt like it was time for me act. I wanted to do my part, no matter how insignificant."

    According to a report by news site Beijing News, some hospitals in Wuhan have experienced food shortages. Two residents living in Wuhan had previously told the BBC that people in the city have been trying to stockpile food.

    Image copyrightCHANGJIANG DAILY
    Image caption
    Li Bo is packing 200 lunch boxes for medical workers at a local hospital
    Li Bo along with his chef spent days buying ingredients and cooking enough food to fit into 200 boxes. He told the news outlet on 26 January that he was in the process of finding enough boxes to pack the food into, adding that the meals would eventually be delivered to medical staff in Wuhan's Xiehe Hospital.

    "I wanted to do my best to [make sure] the medical staff eat hot meals. I hope they get the nutrition they need and that will boost their immunity," he told the paper, adding that he plans to continue the food deliveries for as long as he can.

    "I hope the city we love gets better soon."

    The villager who donated 15,000 masks
    Fears of the coronavirus have seen thousands across the country flocking to buy face masks - triggering a mask shortage in some places.

    Masks have become such a valuable commodity that many on Weibo have joked that they would rather receive face masks instead of the typical monetary gifts given out during Lunar New Year.

    One villager in Changde, a neighbouring province of Hubei where Wuhan is located, decided he would donate almost 15,000 face masks, according to news outlet the Xiaoxiang Morning Herald.

    Hao Jin had last year worked in a mask production factory. He eventually resigned from the job but the company could not afford to pay him his salary. He was instead given 15,000 masks - worth 20,000 yuan (£2,207; $2,883) as a form of compensation.

    He brought the masks home and forgot about them until he heard news of the mask shortage.

    "I thought I would donate the masks I have to those in need, I hope they can be of more use and value to others," he said.

    He kept a handful of the masks for his family, and distributed some to those in his village before donating the rest to people in his county.


    Can wearing masks stop the spread of viruses?
    23 January 2020
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    Related TopicsCoronavirus outbreak
    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    One of the abiding images of any virus outbreak is people in surgical masks.

    Using them to prevent infection is popular in many countries around the world, most notably China during the current coronavirus outbreak where they are also worn to protect against high pollution levels.

    Virologists are sceptical about their effectiveness against airborne viruses.

    But there is some evidence to suggest the masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions.

    Surgical masks were first introduced into hospitals in the late 18th Century but they did not make the transition into public use until the Spanish flu outbreak in 1919 that went on to kill over 50 million people.

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    Dr David Carrington, of St George's, University of London, told BBC News "routine surgical masks for the public are not an effective protection against viruses or bacteria carried in the air", which was how "most viruses" were transmitted, because they were too loose, had no air filter and left the eyes exposed.

    But they could help lower the risk of contracting a virus through the "splash" from a sneeze or a cough and provide some protection against hand-to-mouth transmissions.

    A 2016 study from New South Wales suggested people touched their faces about 23 times an hour.

    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    Jonathan Ball, professor of molecular virology at the University of Nottingham, said: "In one well controlled study in a hospital setting, the face mask was as good at preventing influenza infection as a purpose-made respirator."

    Respirators, which tend to feature a specialised air filter, are specifically designed to protect against potentially hazardous airborne particles.

    "However, when you move to studies looking at their effectiveness in the general population, the data is less compelling - it's quite a challenge to keep a mask on for prolonged periods of time," Prof Ball added.

    Dr Connor Bamford, of the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine, at Queen's University Belfast, said "implementing simple hygiene measures" was vastly more effective.

    "Covering your mouth while sneezing, washing your hands, and not putting your hands to your mouth before washing them, could help limit the risk of catching any respiratory virus," he said.

    The NHS says the best way to avoid catching viruses such as flu is to:

    regularly wash your hands with warm water and soap
    avoid touching your eyes and nose wherever possible
    maintain a fit and healthy lifestyle
    Dr Jake Dunning, head of emerging infections and zoonoses at Public Health England, said: "Although there is a perception that the wearing of facemasks may be beneficial, there is in fact very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use outside of these clinical setting."

    He said masks had to be worn correctly, changed frequently and got rid of safely if they were to work properly.

    "Research also shows that compliance with these recommended behaviours reduces over time when wearing facemasks for prolonged periods," he added.

    People would be better to focus on good personal and hand hygiene if they are concerned, Dr Dunning said.



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