Australia Converts Tourist Island Full of Quokkas Into Covid-19 Quarantine Zone

File photo of a quokka on Rottnest Island, Australia, taken in 2018

File photo of a quokka on Rottnest Island, Australia, taken in 2018
Photo: Matt Novak

An Australian tourist destination, Rottnest Island is being converted into a quarantine area for 800 cruise passengers during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a new report by Australian public broadcaster. The island is known as one of the few places in the world with quokkas, a docile marsupial that doesn’t mind photographing tourists.

The Vasco da Gama cruise ship can accommodate 950 passengers and 550 crew and is scheduled to dock in the city of Fremantle, Western Australia on Friday. The 800 Australian nationals on board disembark and are loaded on ferries for the approximately 45-minute journey to Rottnest, according to the Australian ABC news. They stay on the island for 14 days.

“In the past two days, we have cleared the island of visitors and made arrangements for accommodation, catering and security,” said Prime Minister Mark McGowan of Western Australia, the equivalent of a United States Governor, at a news conference on Wednesday.

The island is said to have 699 rooms for the 800 people, which should succeed because many of the cruise passengers traveled as couples who could sleep together. Most tourists visit Rottnest by boat, but there is a small helicopter landing pad if emergency medical evacuation is required. There are no reports of anyone being sick on board the Vasco da Gama cruise and the quarantine is being taken as a precaution.

The Australian government is still coordinating with foreign governments to find out how to bring people who are not Australians to their home countries. All aliens will remain on the cruise ship until authorities determine how to safely remove them.

“They should never get off unless they travel directly to the airport under strict supervision, or they need urgent medical attention to survive,” said McGowan.

Two other cruise ships are currently waiting off the coast of Western Australia that are not allowed to dock in Fremantle because they do not contain Australian nationals. One of the ships, Magnifica, has at least 250 sick passengers and is said to be allowed to refuel in Fremantle, but will make its way to Dubai this week. Police are following the cruise to ensure no one is disembarking on Australian soil, the agency said Guardian.

Cars are prohibited on Rottnest, apart from a handful of commercial vehicles used for maintenance. Most people travel around the island by walking and cycling, as you can see in the photos below. There is also a bus circling the island and driving slowly to keep it from running over the little quokkas. It is not yet clear what kind of freedom of movement people who are quarantined on the island will have as soon as they arrive.

Australia currently has at least 2,364 covid-19 cases and eight deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker. The state of Western Australia has 205 cases and one death, according to the Department of Health of Western Australia. Australia’s worst outbreaks to date have occurred in the eastern part of the country, including the state of New South Wales, with 1,029 cases and seven deaths.

Rottnest Island, named by Dutch explorers in the 17th century, literally translated to ‘rat’s nest’ because the quokkas looked like vermin. But the adorable little creatures have made Rottnest Island a popular vacation spot for celebrities and social media influencers who love to snap selfies with the animals. The native name for Rottnest in the Noongar language is Wadjemup.

About 770,000 people visit Rottnest Island every year, but the holiday destination has only a handful of permanent residents. Most workers take the ferry every day from Fremantle, a suburb of nearby Perth, to work in the shops and restaurants on Rottnest.

Quokkas was named “happiest animal in the world” after a BuzzFeed list put them in January 2013. The designation “happiest animal” is non-scientific, and the BuzzFeed article only called them that because quokkas often seem to smile and are very social because they have no predators on the island.

British settlers used Rottnest Island as a concentration camp for Aborigines in the United States 19th century and in the 1870s and 1880s, at least 5 people were executed on the island. The island was also used as an internment camp for Germans and Austrians during World War I and for Germans and Italians during World War II.

Like in the United States, Australia’s favorite tourist destinations are the locations of unspeakable horrors. But the quokkas are definitely cute, aren’t they? Let’s hope the small marsupials can’t catch the disease. As we have already seen in Hong Kong, have two dogs tested positive for covid-19, and one of them died.


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