Interview with Chris Smith, 2BG Sydney, Breakfast

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australians in Wuhan city and Hubei province, China.
27 January 2020

Chris Smith:

The Federal Government is urgently working with Chinese authorities to evacuate Australian’s out of Wuhan. The city has being dubbed ground-zero in this deadly coronavirus outbreak. Over 100 Australian children are trapped in the area, they're aged from six months right up to 16 years. Most of them are there to celebrate the Lunar New Year holiday with their families.

On the line I've got Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne. Minister, thank you very much for your time.

Marise Payne:

Good morning Chris.

Chris Smith:

So this is not one group, these are all separate kids following their families and celebrating with what? Wuhan ancestry or antecedents?

Marise Payne:

Chris, it's actually a very complex situation. You’re quite correct, it's not one single group and that makes it difficult for us to provide a definitive figure on the number of Australians who are in Wuhan or even further across Hubei province. And dual-nationals may also of course be part of that process and if they have travelled on their Chinese passports…

Chris Smith:

Right.

Marise Payne:

…then that makes it difficult for us to track down. We've had about 80 calls to the embassy and to consulates, and we've also set up our own consular emergency line. And we've encouraged Australians who do believe they have family in the affected area to contact that and perhaps at the end of this discussion I could provide both of those numbers.

Chris Smith:

Yeah well, how about we do it at the end but also do it now?

Marise Payne:

Certainly. So if you have,  if you believe you do have family in the affected area you should contact DFAT’s Consular Emergency line which is 1300 555 135 in Australia. And if you need to call from overseas, if you have family overseas then of course it's +61 2 62 61 3305.

Chris Smith:

Okay, we’ll repeat that at the end of the interview. What are medical experts telling you and your team? Can we contain this outbreak?

Marise Payne:

Well, the Chinese authorities are putting in place mechanisms to endeavour to achieve that but it is obviously a very fast moving process and very complex. What we have done here in Australia is to establish very strong border measures to detect travellers who are unwell coming into the country. And with the Chinese authorities stopping traffic from Hubei Province as an added precaution we're also, on top of that, ensuring that flights from other parts of China will also be met and those passengers provided with information on arrival. So, here in Australia we have a very strong system in place and I think the Chief Medical Officer has been providing very useful regular updates on that. And we are working closely, from the Commonwealth, with the state and territory health ministers who obviously are in charge on the ground in the states and territories.

Chris Smith:

Was it wise to allow flights from Wuhan, once we became aware of the outbreak?

Marise Payne:

Well I think the examination process that we have had in places is an important one and it has been, it has been working. This is a problem which, or an issue which is impacting not just China but also internationally and to a degree we have been guided by information and feedback from Chinese authorities. But we've managed the incoming passengers here and through the Chief Medical Officer and Health Minister, Greg Hunt, we are confident that that system in place is a very good one.

So we'll continue to talk to the Chinese authorities about those Australians who are on the ground in China, in Hubei and Wuhan in particular, and try to provide what support we can in that context.

Chris Smith:

But I ask that question because we've still got flights on which we've got people who have been confirmed to have the virus and we can't contact 100 per cent of the passengers. If we didn't allow these flights through when we heard about the outbreak we wouldn't be in this position.

Marise Payne:

Well I think the endeavours that we are making to contact those passengers are far-reaching and we are helped by state authorities in that. But at the moment our focus is on making sure that we contain any issues here in Australia. Obviously the international spread is also significant and people have of course moved around China, moved around the world…

Chris Smith:

Sure.

Marise Payne:

…before they would have had any idea of the potential issues of infection, and that makes it even more difficult.

Chris Smith:

Has the Department of Foreign Affairs changed its travel advice for listeners thinking of heading to China?

Marise Payne:

We have, we've updated most certainly our travel advice to Wuhan and for Hubei Province to Level 4, which is do not travel. We are providing regular updates on our Smart Traveller bulletin and I really encourage people to subscribe to Smart Traveller updates online because they will provide the latest information. And the advice level for China as a whole at this point has not changed. We made the changes for Hubei province and for Wuhan in acknowledgement of the impositions on travel restrictions that China made. It's important to note that they are very, very stringent and that Australians who are in Hubei of course might not be able to depart until they are lifted.

Chris Smith:

Most of our travellers from China come from places like Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. Do we know how many people are contaminated or how many people have the virus in those three major metropolises?

Marise Payne:

Chris, I think it would be perhaps not appropriate for me to speculate on numbers of infections and I would leave that to health authorities. But we do know that there have been infections identified in other parts of China. That is why we are meeting all flights from China and providing that biosecurity information to all those passengers, and also why on the — why on the other side of that coin Chinese authorities are very focused on checking the health issues in those centres as well. But we are very, very careful about this, very stringent about this, and I have a great deal of regard for the work that the Chief Medical Officer and his team and the health authorities — particularly in Victoria and New South Wales — are undertaking.

Chris Smith:

It might be worthwhile to repeat those two numbers that you gave us a little earlier for our listeners.

Marise Payne:

Certainly, Chris. So Australians who believe they do have family in the affected area should contact DFAT’s Consular Emergency line. That number from Australia is 1300 555 135. And if the call needs to be made from overseas it's +61 2 62 61 3305.

Chris Smith:

Appreciate your time. Thank you.

Marise Payne:

Thank you very much, Chris.

Chris Smith:

Okay. Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne.

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