Prime Minister Scott Morrison is considering a plan to evacuate Australians on the Diamond Princess later this week, with a decision to be made as soon as Monday, The Australian reports.
About 200 Australians are on the ship, which has been in quarantine in the port of Yokohama for more than two weeks.
Seventy more people on board were confirmed to have the virus on Sunday, bringing the number of cases from the ship to 355 – 16 of them Australians.
Those who tested positive for the virus are being treated in Japan.
Mr Morrison and cabinet are waiting for an Australian infectious disease expert’s assessment of the situation on board the ship, The Australian reported.
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.
A plan to fly the evacuees to Darwin to join quarantine facilities where 266 others flown from Wuhan are already staying is understood to be in place, according to News Corp.
The preparations come as NSW Health said passengers arriving into Sydney on some cruise ships will be assessed by experts as a precautionary measure.
A risk assessment will be completed for each cruise ship arriving into the harbour city before it berths and then a decision will be made by health authorities whether to disembark passengers.
Of the 15 coronavirus cases in Australia, six have been cleared and the remaining nine are all 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.
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 as the number of new coronavirus cases diagnosed on the vessel jumped to 355.
The evacuation came as Japanese authorities stepped up warnings over the deadly outbreak, urging citizens to avoid crowds and “non-essential gatherings.”
The Diamond Princess was placed in a 14-day quarantine in early February after a former passenger tested positive for the virus.
But US authorities announced Saturday they would offer Americans onboard the option to leave the ship and fly home, where they will face another 14-day isolation period. Several other governments have announced plans to remove their citizens from the ship as well.
Late Sunday and into the early hours of Monday, Americans who opted to leave were brought off the ship in groups, passing through a makeshift passport control but undergoing no health checks, American passenger Sarah Arana told AFP.
They boarded buses driven by personnel in head-to-toe protective suits and were told that the more than a dozen vehicles would travel in a convoy.
“I am happy and ready to go,” Ms Arana said before leaving the ship. “We need a proper quarantine, this was not it.”
The US government should have intervened “much sooner, at the beginning,” the 52-year-old medical social worker said.
“This was too much for Japan, and they shouldn’t have had to bear the burden,” she added. “The people of Japan did not deserve this. I am full of gratitude.”
Declining to leave
But other Americans on board declined the evacuation, despite being warned they will still have to wait two weeks and test negative for the virus before being allowed back to the United States.
“My health is fine. And my two-week quarantine is almost over. Why would I want to be put on a bus and a plane with other people they think may be infected when I have spent nearly two weeks isolated from those people?” tweeted Matt Smith, an American lawyer on the ship with his wife.
He described a fellow American passenger standing on her balcony chanting “USA, USA” as buses arrived to collect them.
“Of course, in contravention of the rules of quarantine, she’s not wearing a face mask, and she’s talking with a passenger on the adjacent balcony… And you wanted me to get on a bus with her?”