National

Aussies on home soil after quarantine

By AAP Newswire

The first Australians to be quarantined on Christmas Island over the coronavirus have landed back on the mainland.

Two aircraft refuelled at Port Hedland in Western Australia on Monday afternoon.

One of the aircraft will continue on to Sydney and Canberra while the second will go to Adelaide and Melbourne.

A third flight will travel via Perth and Brisbane, leaving about 35 people on the island for another flight on Wednesday.

None of the people will be required to take further tests when they get home, as they were cleared just before they left the island.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison earlier thanked them for accepting the quarantine period in good faith.

"Some of the letters we're seeing come out of there in recent days have just been lovely," he said.

Meanwhile, Australians stranded on a cruise ship off Japan because of the deadly coronavirus outbreak could soon be evacuated.

The Morrison government is considering a plan to bring Australians on the Diamond Princess home later this week, with an announcement expected in the next few hours.

About 200 Australians are on the ship, which has been quarantined in the port of Yokohama for more than two weeks.

Australian infectious disease expert Paul Armstrong is in Japan, assessing the situation on board the ship, and will report to cabinet's national security committee.

Mr Morrison ruled out using Christmas Island to quarantine people who being evacuated from the ship.

"It would take, my advice is, up to a week to ready that facility again and there are quite specific needs we wouldn't be able to accommodate at Christmas Island for the more elderly group of people," he said in Melbourne on Monday.

"That's not an option we're considering for this operation and we don't have any other operations envisaged at this time."

Seventy more people on board were confirmed to have the virus on Sunday, bringing the number of cases from the ship to 355, with 16 of them Australians.

Those who tested positive for the virus are being treated onshore in Japan.

Americans on board the Diamond Princess were being flown to the US on chartered planes from Sunday, while authorities in Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong and Italy have announced flights home for their citizens.

The Australians on board must pass a coronavirus test before they can be brought home, and elderly people will be given priority in the evacuation.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said Dr Armstrong's advice would be crucial to the government's next move on the cruise ship.

"If his advice is that there has been in any way a secondary round of infections, and obviously the presumption is that's the case, then we're looking to work with Qantas to bring these people home," he told the Seven Network.

Some on the ship have raised the prospect of refusing to join any Australian evacuation, in the hope they can leave the ship as early as Friday when their existing quarantine period expires.

Of the 15 coronavirus cases in Australia, eight have recovered and the remaining seven are stable.

In China, the total number of people infected by the virus has risen to more than 68,500, with the number of deaths now at 1665.