What Its Like to Be Quarantined on an Island Over Coronavirus Fears – SBS News

Life in an immigration detention centre on Australias Christmas Island has not been as bad as David Huang feared.

It is certainly a far cry from the conditions that thousands of asylum-seekers have faced in the countrys offshore detention centres in recent years.

Sure, the steel on the buildings facade is rusted in parts. The Wi-Fi is shaky, especially at meal times, when he and others are trying to contact their families and friends.

Dinner, at least on Tuesday, the first night he spent there, was uninspiring and mushy.

Medical personnel preparing for the arrival of evacuees on Thursday.Credit...

Richard Wainwright/EPA, via Shutterstock

Yet after being evacuated from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, he had set his expectations low.

Mr Huang, a 22-year-old student from Sydney, is one of about 270 Australian citizens and permanent residents who have been flown out of China in the past week and taken to Christmas Island.

None of the evacuees have tested positive for the virus, Australias health minister said on Tuesday.

Health experts have criticised the governments decision to quarantine them for two weeks in a centre usually used to house asylum-seekers rather than holding evacuees in better-equipped military bases on the mainland.

But while some evacuees have said the conditions at the centre are worse than they had imagined, Mr Huang said he personally found the quarantine bearable.

Evacuees arriving at the airport on Christmas Island.Credit...


Although he said the travellers had found dead moths in their beds and dead cockroaches on the floors, and spent much of their first night in the centre cleaning, Mr Huang said he didnt really mind.

Its obviously not great for the rooms to have dirty conditions, he said by telephone.

But I think it's important to think about the fact that there are so many families here that they have to accommodate.

Workers at the centre have been responsive to evacuees requests, Mr Huang said.

They added more fruit and vegetables to the meals and handed out soap and cigarettes as well as sunscreen, shorts and sandals attire more suited to the tropical island than the clothes they had brought from China.

There are Xbox 360 gaming devices, which some of the evacuees were playing to pass the time.

A member of the medical team playing football at the detention center.Credit...


Those in the quarantine have been given wristbands with QR codes that, when scanned, provide access to their medical records.

And every day, doctors wearing face masks and full protective medical gear take their temperatures.

Families are split into two people per room. Mr Huang and his father are staying in one room, while his mother and brother are staying in another.

The rooms have bunk beds and a desk. Showers and toilets are shared.

For Mr Huang and his family, their journey began on Sunday in the city of Xiangyang in Hubei province, about three hours away from Wuhan, the Chinese city hardest hit by the virus.

They had been visiting relatives during the Lunar New Year holiday last month when authorities locked down Xiangyang as part of a security cordon to contain the epidemic.

When the family decided to leave, they made a series of phone calls to Chinese and Australian officials and received documents that allowed them to drive through multiple checkpoints to Wuhans airport.

The flight first landed on Learmonth, an airbase in Western Australia. Passengers were then transferred on separate flights to Christmas Island.

There, Mr Huang, who is worried about contracting the virus, has mostly kept to himself.

Each day after waking up, he goes for a walk outside the building, which is surrounded by tall fences. After breakfast and a medical check, Mr Huang, who is studying game development, returns to his room, where he plays computer games for a few hours.

Then he goes for another walk to check his social media accounts. To pass the time, his mother has been teaching him how to read and write Chinese characters.

And repeat, he said. Thats what my daily schedule looks like.

Mr Huang said the hardest thing to deal with was the sense of isolation on an unfamiliar island, and he misses his friends in Sydney.

Very, very homesick, I think describes both my family and the families around us, he wrote on Facebook Messenger shortly before the internet seemed to drop out once more.

By Isabella Kwai 2020 The New York Times

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What Its Like to Be Quarantined on an Island Over Coronavirus Fears - SBS News

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