Rottnest Island, a small sandy islet off the coast of Western Australia, is being turned into a coronavirus quarantine zone for some 800 Australian cruise passengers
The little island is famous for being the only home of the quokka – a small and friendly marsupial that is often described as “the happiest animal on earth” due to its naturally smiling expression.
In the past two days all visitors have been ordered off the island, so it can be prepared as a quarantine site.
The cruise liner Vasco da Gama is scheduled to dock in the city of Fremantle, Western Australia on Friday. None of its 950 passengers and 550 crew are currently thought to be suffering from COVID-19.
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From there, 800 Australian nationals are expected to be loaded onto ferries and shipped to Rottnest for a precautionary 14-day quarantine.
There is a hotel on the island but it’s currently being refitted. There are, however, a number of bungalows, cabins and dormitories on the island, which has previously been home to a penal colony, a military installation, and in wartime an internment camp for enemy aliens.
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At a press conference today, Western Australia’s Premier Mark McGowan told reporters: “In the last two days we have cleared the island of visitors and made arrangements for accommodation, catering, and security.”
He said that when it was first suggested preparing Rottnest as a potential quarantine site sounded almost "ridiculous" to him.
"But I'm so pleased we made that decision a couple of days ago, because we now need it," he said.
The island reportedly has 699 available beds for the 800 people, which is expected to be ample for the 800 Australians as many of them have been sharing cabins on the ship.
Rottnest has a permanent population of around 300, and around 500,000 tourists every year – mainly to get a selfie with the adorable quokkas.
Though quokkas are said to be the happiest animal on Earth, a few dozen cases of quokkas biting people, especially children, are reported every year.
While visitors generally make the 12 mile journey to the island by boat, there is a helipad if any acute cases need to be airlifted to hospital.
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