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Australia seeks entry to virus epicentre

Photo: Aust govt seeks entry to virus epicentre
Australian authorities are expected to head to Hubei province this week to work on a plan to evacuate about 400 people trapped in the quarantined city.

Australia is still working on a plan to help hundreds of citizens stranded in China get back home, as the government cautioned against travel to China and particularly the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Hubei province.

Around 400 Australian citizens have registered for evacuation from the Hubei city of Wuhan in central China where the deadly virus first infected humans, although that number might include double-counting of some people.

Embassy officials met with Chinese authorities in Beijing earlier this week to discuss the diplomatic options available to help citizens in Wuhan and are expected to try to enter Hubei province later this week to work on an evacuation plan.
The US Embassy in Beijing has reportedly chartered plane to pick up its consular staff on Wednesday while the European Commission said it would help fund two aircraft to fly EU citizens home, including 250 French nationals.

The coronavirus death toll in China has hit 106 and there are now more than 4500 confirmed cases of infection on the mainland.

"Right now, the Australian government, through our embassy, is looking to deploy, working with the Chinese government consular officials, into Hubei province, into Wuhan," prime minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday.

Japan and the United States are among the countries reportedly planning to fly charter planes into Wuhan to evacuate their own citizens.

Five people are being treated in Australian hospitals for the virus. Four of those cases - including one woman and three men - are in NSW and the fifth, another man, is in Melbourne.

Four adult patients in Western Australia were cleared of the virus after undergoing tests on Tuesday evening.

Authorities are bracing for more infections to be confirmed in Australia, and are working to trace all human contact made by infected patients since they entered the country from China.

The federal government's Smart Traveller website was updated late on Tuesday telling Australians to "reconsider your need to travel to China" and also advising people "not" to travel to Hubei province at all.

"Chinese authorities have restricted travel for parts of the country and may extend these restrictions at short notice," the advice said.

"Travellers may be quarantined, due to their health condition or previous location."

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