Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has defended the decision to extend the coronavirus ban on travellers from China, amid concerns thousands of students fear the future of their studies and businesses are struggling to cope.
The Chinese embassy in Australia has also lashed the federal government’s “extreme” decision to extend the ban for a further week.
“Of course we want to work very closely with the Chinese government but our responsibility is to keep Australians safe,” Mr Dutton told the Nine Network on Friday.
“You can understand it from the Chinese perspective.”
From Friday, foreign nationals who have been in mainland China will not be allowed to enter Australia for 14 days from the time they left.
The ban was originally imposed on February 1, and had been due to expire on Saturday, February 15.
The ban will now run until at least February 22.
But the Chinese embassy wants the ban lifted, saying the World Health Organisation had not recommended travel or trade restrictions on China.
“We express our deep regret and dissatisfaction over the Australian government’s announcement,” a spokesman said.
“Only Australia and a small number of countries have taken such extreme measures, which are an overreaction indeed.”
Australian citizens and permanent residents will still be able to return home, as will their immediate family members. But they must self-isolate for 14 days from the time they left mainland China.
Australia’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said the key concern was the spread of the virus, officially known as COVID-19, across China.
There are now more than 60,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, mostly in the province of Hubei, and 1357 people have died.
More than 240 deaths were reported on Wednesday alone, the highest number of fatalities on a single day since the virus was first reported in December. Chinese authorities said the dramatic spike was largely due to a change in testing methodology.
Of the 15 cases in Australia, six have been cleared and the remaining nine are all stable.
No quarantined Australians on Christmas Island and in the Howard Springs disused mining camp 30km out of Darwin have tested positive for the virus. The first group of Christmas Island evacuees is due to return home on Monday.
In the meantime, universities across Australia are contacting their Chinese students about the extended travel ban.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson told the ABC an estimated 100,000 international students cannot get to Australia to begin their studies.
There are reports some students are heading to third countries, such as Thailand, to wait out the 14-day isolation period before coming to Australia.
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has said that is “perfectly within the guidelines”. But Ms Jackson said it could be risky.
“Things are moving and changing very rapidly,” she said.
“The last thing you’d want is a student to move from China to another country and attempt to get back in here and then have the borders on that country close.”
Meanwhile, the Australian Tourism Industry Council believes the deadly virus will have a bigger financial impact than the summer’s devastating bushfires.
It wants the federal government to match its $76 million bushfire support package with money for areas such as international marketing and support for small businesses.
“[China] is our most critical tourism export market, 1.5 million annual visitors a year out of that particular part of the world and spending over $12 billion,” executive director Simon Westaway told the ABC.
Work is already underway on extending domestic tourism campaigns to help businesses affected by the downturn in foreign visitors.