In a near-deserted Sydney airport, a flight from China’s coronavirus epicentre touched down on Australian soil for the first time in more than two months.
China lifted its 76-day travel lockdown on the virus-hit city of Wuhan, where the majority of the country’s 3,333 deaths occurred, at midnight on Tuesday, allowing for a freight plane to depart from Hubei’s capital and arrive in Sydney about 9pm on Wednesday.
There were of course no passengers on board, with Australia’s ban on overseas residents still firmly in place, however the plane’s contents were of immense value to Australia.
Being sent to Australia from Wuhan was 90 tonnes of much-needed medical supplies, the Department of Home Affairs has confirmed.
The freight was made up of personal protective equipment and respirators, a spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia, while the ABC reported ventilators were also on board.
"Flights like this are crucial in ensuring the ongoing supply of these critical goods,” the department told the ABC.
Yahoo News Australia has contacted NSW Health for further information regarding specific numbers on what has been delivered.
State governments have routinely expressed their desires to ramp up personal protective equipment stockpiles and more than double ICU capacity, with the delivery from Wuhan most likely welcomed by medical teams concerned over a lack of resources.
China continues to reiterate its commitment to helping the rest of the world in its battle against coronavirus, and appears to have an abundance of medical supplies after more than 3,000 manufacturers across China were instructed at the height of its epidemic to focus solely on producing PPE and other medical items.
Being a freight aircraft, it was unloaded away from any passengers in Sydney Airport and crew were instructed to self-isolate for any period of transit.
China lashes out at Australian media’s ‘double standards’
The delivery comes after the Chinese embassy lashed out at reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and News Corp which they claimed “defamed” Chinese companies in Australia who stockpiled items to be sent over to China during a period when Hubei struggled to get to grips with its outbreak.
The reports said Chinese state-owned companies had been ordered to buy up equipment including face masks and protective clothing during January and February.
The first cases of coronavirus in Australia were confirmed in late January.
A spokesperson for the embassy said sections of the media were "keen to defame the local Chinese companies" at the same time as Australian businesses are importing protective equipment from China.
"The Aussie media are misleading the public, maliciously characterised the Chinese companies' purchasing, a purely humiliation move, as 'scandal'," the embassy said in a statement on Monday.
"Then how do they characterise the Aussie companies' procurement in China? Another scandal?
"At present what the world needs most is solidarity and mutual support other than spreading disinformation and inciting hatred."
Wuhan’s spectacular lockdown lift
As the clock struck midnight on Tuesday night, there were celebratory scenes across Wuhan as the 76-day travel restriction was lifted.
Thousands had flocked to airports, train stations and road blocks to leave the city at midnight, with over 100,000 people expected to have left the city on Wednesday.
Buildings, streets and bridges across the city’s centre were lit up in a celebration recognising the landmark moment.
An announcement blaring over Wuhan’s main train station PA system said: "Wuhan deserves to be called the city of heroes. Wuhan people deserve to be called heroes."
Many of those leaving were either migrant workers or those returning home for Chinese New Year, who became trapped within the city.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.