UPDATED FEB 2.
Qantas has launched the Australian Government’s rescue mission for Australians stranded in Wuhan, China, by the coronavirus.
Flight QF6031 took off at 1.13 pm local time.
The Boeing 747-400ER, carrying the registration VH-OEE, is being crewed by an all-volunteer crew.
It is flying as Flt QF 6031 to Hong Kong, arriving there at 7.30 pm local before flying a domestic leg to Wuhan arriving in the quarantined city at 11.30 pm.
The 747-400ER will take off as Flt QF6032 at 2 am and fly direct to Learmonth in Western Australia arriving at 11 am on Feb 3.
It is understood that the passengers will be transferred onto two Sky Traders A320s for the flight to Christmas Island.
While the 747 can land at Christmas Island the runway is not grooved and at this time of the year subject to heavy rain.
Separately Qantas has announced that it will suspend its two direct services to mainland China (Sydney-Beijing and Sydney-Shanghai) from 9 February until 29 March 2020 because of the coronavirus.
This follows coronavirus entry restrictions imposed by countries including Singapore and the United States, which impact the movement of crew who work across the Qantas International network.
These entry restrictions pose significant logistical challenges for rostering crew to operate mainland China services, leading to the need to temporarily suspend these flights.
More and more airlines are suspending travel to China as travel demand slumps.
Air France has just followed British Airways, Lufthansa and Virgin Atlantic in suspending flights to China.
Other airlines are carrying extra crews so that the flight can fly straight back and not overnight requiring the crew to stay in hotels.