Here’s Everything Wrong With The Plan To Turn Christmas Island Into A Quarantine Zone

The coronavirus outbreak sweeping China is a big problem, and the Australian Government’s pledge to evacuate some 600 Australian citizens from the disease’s epicentre was offered as a big solution. But in the day since Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the drastic measure to quarantine those evacuees in the Christmas Island detention centre, questions have been raised.

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Most notably: why weren’t Christmas Island officials notified of the decision before the public? How will the flights even operate? And why did the only current occupants of the centre reportedly only find out when the media contacted them?

170 people have died as a result of the novel coronavirus, and nearly 8,000 cases have been detected – including seven in Australia. China has placed 16 cities under strict lockdown to limit the spread of the disease. Those lockdowns, obviously, make leaving quite difficult.

Enter Morrison’s announcement, and the backlash to it.

Speaking to the ABC last night, Christmas Island Shire President Gordon Thomson disapproved of the plan, saying he only learned of the measure from an SBS broadcast.

He echoed the sentiment that those evacuated from Hubei could be quarantined on the well-resourced mainland, not a tiny island thousands 1500 kilometres off the WA coast.

“Regressive colonial era ideas since 2001. Create convict settlement for innocent people, now we’ll be a leper colony,” Thomson said.

“These ideas were abandoned in the mid-20th century. Get lost Scotty.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison touring the reopened Christmas Island detention facility. Via Lukas Coch / AAP Image

Residents of the island are reportedly none to keen on the idea, either. Speaking to The Australian, Christmas Island business owner Sharon Tisdale said she was “gobsmacked” by the move.

Speaking on Today this morning, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the Federal Government had tried to contact Gordon but only reached his voicemail.

He also defended the reopened detention centre’s utility as a quarantine facility, saying “We want to help people out of a difficult situation but we don’t want to inadvertently put Australians here at home at risk either.”

Natasha Griggs, the administrator appointed by the government to oversee Christmas Island, today responded to community fears.

“I understand that the Christmas Island (CI) community is concerned about plans to establish coronavirus quarantine activities on the Island for Australians travelling from Wuhan/Hubei,” she said in a statement.

“The Department of Health is working with it’s (sic) partner agencies to provide a level of support to this group of evacuee’s (sic) that won’t place any further burden on the Indian Ocean Territory Health Services.”

There are international tensions at play, too. Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne today told AM the Australian Government is still “endeavouring to seek the agreement of Chinese authorities for this process,” which is no small feat, given the lack of an Australian consular presence in regional capital Wuhan.

That same interview touched on another limiting factor: Qantas does not believe its Boeing 747 jets, the largest in its fleet, are capable of landing on the Christmas Island airstrip.

While it had been suggested a larger plane could land on mainland Australia before its occupants head to Christmas Island on smaller aircraft, Payne said “the arrangements for the logistics of the flights themselves will be made through the Department of Home Affairs.”

And if you’re wondering about the only folks currently occupying the detention centre, well, apparently they were kept in the dark too.

Crikey reports the Biloela family – the four Tamil asylum seekers refused permanent settlement in the Queensland town of Biloela and turfed off to Christmas Island last year – only found out about the quarantine plan when Crikey called.

Kopika (right) and Tharunicaa, two of the Tamil asylum seekers currently detained on Christmas Island. Via AAP Image

I don’t know about you, but if the government failed to deport me, bunged my family an offshore detention centre, and then told me my temporary home would soon become a quarantine zone… I’m not sure I’d be too chuffed about it.

“There are many complications and many issues that we’re going to have to overcome,” Morrison said of the measure. Looks like he wasn’t wrong. We’ll keep you up to date on how this one pans out.