Jetstar flight on lockdown for hours after passenger falls ill amid coronavirus crisis

·5-min read

A man who became ill on a Jetstar flight from Melbourne to Hobart is being assessed by health authorities amid coronavirus fears.

The plane was placed into lockdown on the Hobart Airport tarmac for several hours on Friday afternoon as health authorities examined the man.

The deadly coronavirus is not strongly suspected but he has been taken to the Royal Hobart Hospital for assessment.

Further testing will be undertaken if necessary, the state health department said.

Stock image of Jetstar plane. Source: AAP
A Jetstar flight was placed on lockdown on Friday afternoon after a passenger fell ill. Source: AAP (file pic)

The man had recently travelled to China but it is understood he was not in Wuhan, where the virus outbreak originated, or the wider Hubei Province.

Tasmania's Public Health Director Mark Veitch apologised to passengers for the delay "but we are conscious of the need to take necessary and appropriate precautions given the current situation," he said in a statement.

Health services have taken passengers' details to follow up if necessary.

Two people have been tested in Tasmania for coronavirus and both were cleared.

Australians could leave Wuhan on Monday

Australians stranded in the coronavirus epicentre of Wuhan could be evacuated as early as Monday morning.

A Qantas plane will fly to Hong Kong on Friday night, where it will be based while waiting for final approval from Chinese officials before landing in Wuhan.

An Australian government source says this final approval is likely to come over the weekend.

Hundreds of Australians are stranded in the locked down city of Wuhan, where the deadly coronavirus first infected humans.

Airport staff threaten to walk amid coronavirus fears

The Transport Workers Union has called for the suspension of all direct flights from China over the coronavirus outbreak despite top health bureaucrats saying the measure would be ineffective.

The call came on Friday as Qantas employees were threatened with disciplinary action if they refused to work on flights from China due to concerns about the potentially fatal virus.

The disease has killed 213 people in China and infected more than 9800 globally, with the World Health Organisation declaring a public health emergency.

The virus has spread to 22 countries including Australia, which has nine confirmed cases with more expected.

China last week stopped flights from Wuhan - the epicentre of the virus - but the TWU now wants Mr Morrison to intervene and restrict all incoming flights from China.

People wearing protective face masks to protect themselves from Coronavirus are seen at Brisbane International Airport on Friday. Source: AAP
People wearing protective face masks to protect themselves from Coronavirus are seen at Brisbane International Airport on Friday. Source: AAP

The union's national secretary, Michael Kaine, says there is a high level of uncertainty about the virus and the "precautionary principle" should apply.

"There has been a dearth of information from this federal government to airports and to airlines about what it is precisely they should do," he said on Friday.

"There's one thing that we can do and one step that we could take and should take and that is to cut off flights from the source of the virus.

"We should take the lead here and stop flights into Australia from China right now."

Airlines around the world have stopped flights from mainland China, including American Airlines and British Airways, Mr Kaine said.

The union has written to airports, airlines and the federal government about the matter.

But Australia's chief medical officer Brendan Murphy says banning direct flights from China is not recommended as a public health measure.

"The World Health Organisation strongly recommends that nations do not ban flights from China because unless you lock down exit from the country, banning direct flights doesn't stop people coming from China," Professor Murphy told reporters in Canberra.

"They could come from all sorts of other ports and at least we know who is coming from China and we can meet and do very intensive border measures for those flights."

A number of the airlines who have ceased flights from China have done so for commercial reasons, Prof Murphy said.

Passengers and a pilot are seen disembarking a plane in Brisbane on Friday. Source: AAP
Passengers and a pilot are seen disembarking a plane in Brisbane on Friday. Source: AAP

Qantas staff ‘could be sacked’

It's understood that Qantas employees have been formally directed to continue working on aircrafts operating from airports in China.

The airline has made it clear that if employees fail to do so they may face disciplinary action - including being sacked.

The TWU says a meeting was planned with Qantas on Friday afternoon to discuss the instructions.

The union will also ask for details on protections the airline will put in place for workers on board a flight to evacuate Australians from Wuhan.

Qantas, along with Virgin Australia, is following advice from the WHO and the federal health department.

Virgin Australia does not operate flights to and from mainland China and from February 11 will only operate daily flights from Sydney to Hong Kong, dropping the Melbourne route.

Crews are maintaining high hygiene standards including hand sanitising and cough etiquette, a Virgin Australia spokeswoman said in a statement.

Qantas has been contacted for comment.

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