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Coronavirus: Australia and UK to quarantine citizens repatriated from Wuhan for 14 days

Passengers wear protective masks to protect against the spread of coronavirus as they arrive at Los Angeles International Airport on January 22, 2020.
Mark Ralston | Getty Images

Australian and U.K. citizens repatriated from coronavirus-hit Wuhan are to be quarantined for up to two weeks, the governments of both countries announced Wednesday.

This follows a similar move by the French government who said Sunday that its citizens would spend 14 days in quarantine upon their return from the Wuhan area.

Those departing Wuhan city and Hubei province in China on any flight arranged by the Australian government will be flown to Christmas Island, where they will stay for up to 14 days as a condition of their assisted departure. According to the government announcement, just over 600 Australians are currently in the area at the center of the coronavirus outbreak.

Christmas Island is an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, and until 2018 was home to a controversial detention center used to hold migrants who attempt to reach Australia illegally. In February last year, the current government announced plans to reopen the center.

Speaking at a press conference in the Australian capital Canberra on Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Australian government would initially provide "some assisted departures for isolated and vulnerable Australians" such as young people and the elderly, with help from Chinese authorities and airline Qantas.

"Anyone who under this plan is transported to Christmas Island would be there, we envisage, for up to 14 days, which is the advised period of quarantine for the patient of this virus," he said. "But that will be subject to the medical advice we receive, and that will obviously be a condition of those who would seek to take part in this arrangement."

"I want to stress that we cannot give a guarantee that this operation is able to succeed, and I also want to stress very clearly that we may not be in a position if we're able to do this on one occasion, to do it on another occasion," Morrison added.

Chinese state media confirmed on Wednesday that the number of coronavirus cases in the country had exceeded 6,000 and the death toll from the disease has risen to 132.

Other governments are also scrambling to bring their citizens home from China's Hubei province.

Hundreds of British citizens being flown to the U.K. from Wuhan on Thursday will be quarantined for two weeks, the BBC reported Wednesday. Around 200 people are expected to be returned to Britain, where they could reportedly be kept in quarantine at a military base.

Meanwhile, around 200 American citizens landed in Anchorage, Alaska, on a chartered flight from Wuhan on Tuesday evening. According to Alaska's Department of Health and Social Services, those onboard the flight were screened multiple times for signs of respiratory illness prior to their departure from China. Upon landing in Anchorage, the passengers were screened again in a closed area of Ted Stevens International Airport's North Terminal.

Passengers were then scheduled to be flown to Ontario, California, according to NBC News, but were diverted to March Air Reserve Base southeast of Los Angeles.

The European Union has also outlined plans to repatriate citizens from China. On Tuesday, the EU announced that it would co-finance air travel to bring Europeans home from the Wuhan area, with the first aircraft leaving France on Wednesday morning to collect around 250 French citizens.

A plane carrying 206 Japanese nationals from Wuhan landed in Tokyo on Wednesday, according to media reports.