The Australian government is working with Chinese authorities to get clearance for a plane to airlift Australians out of the coronavirus epicenter of Wuhan after the evacuation was delayed overnight.
The plane was originally scheduled to leave Wuhan on Friday night but did not get clearance to land from China.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the Qantas flight is presently in Hong Kong.
“We are awaiting approval from the Chinese authorities to fly to Wuhan,” the DFAT spokesperson told AAP.
“Many flights out of Wuhan have been delayed. We are engaging closely with the Chinese authorities to ensure our flight can proceed as soon as possible.”
It will be the second evacuation flight to get Australians out of China.
The second group will be quarantined at an old mining camp near Darwin.
“We are in contact with all passengers on the manifest about the status of the flight,” the DFAT spokesperson said.
“The assisted departure is a complex operation under difficult circumstances. Any such departure is always subject to operational requirements and to Chinese government final approval.”
Once the Australians are extracted, they will be sent to the Manigurr-ma Village at Howard Springs, about 19 miles (30km) from Darwin, with Christmas Island unable to house another couple of hundred evacuees.
The federal government said on Friday evacuees would be screened before boarding the plane in China and continuously monitored by medical staff during the flight.
Anyone found to be unwell on arrival at Darwin will be taken directly to a hospital where they will be quarantined, the government said.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said those staying at the Howard Springs facility were unlikely to become infectious, and their health would be closely monitored.
“It is important people living in and around Howard Springs know the novel coronavirus can only be transmitted by close contact with an infectious person and cannot be spread through the air,” he said.
“The health and safety of the Howard Springs community is of paramount importance, and I am confident the security and public health measures put in place will prevent any risk to the community’s health.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned people not to assume any further evacuation flights will be possible, either from Wuhan or mainland China.
Australia has so far had 15 confirmed coronavirus cases: five in Queensland, four each in NSW and Victoria, and two in South Australia.
By Colin Brinsden