Australia has updated its official travel advice for Japan and South Korea amid growing concerns about the spread of the deadly coronavirus outside China.
Travellers to Japan and South Korea have been warned to exercise a high degree of caution.
The elevation comes just months before the Olympic Games open in Tokyo on July 24.
Monday’s Smartraveller alert also included a warning for anyone travelling to Italy, which has had three deaths from coronavirus.
“Monitor your health closely and follow the advice of local authorities,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said.
The change came as South Korea reported a rapid surge in infections – up 161.
The coronavirus has spread rapidly in the region surrounding South Korea’s south-western city of Daegu. Monday’s update brought the country’s total cases to 763.
South Korean officials also confirmed two more deaths of virus patients, bringing its death toll to seven.
South Korea’s president said on Sunday that he was putting his country on its highest alert for infectious diseases, ordering officials to take “unprecedented, powerful” steps to stem the spread of the outbreak.
Air New Zealand has suspended flights to South Korea after the country experienced a surge in reported cases of the virus.
Australia does not have a local carrier that flies into South Korea.
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said the elevated travel warning for Australians was due to the “significant increase in reported cases in South Korea, the continuing number of cases in Japan and, more recently, the small outbreak in northern Italy and the increasing cases, and particularly deaths, in Iran”.
“All of these developments in other countries are cause for concern and all of those countries are making very extensive efforts to try to contain the outbreaks,” he said on Monday.
Italy – which has the biggest outbreak of the virus in Europe – has locked down several northern towns and is taking extreme measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. Iran has reported eight deaths – the highest number outside China.
However, Professor Murphy said there was “some cautious optimism” about the virus’s spread in China.
“The developments in the other provinces of China have not been as great as they were early this month, when there were significant increase in case numbers every day,” he said.
“At the moment, the rising cases in provinces other than Hubei province
are a bit lower than they were.”
Meanwhile, 47 Australians are being treated in Japan after testing positive to coronavirus.
Another 170 were flown back to Australia last week after evacuating the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama.
Seven evacuees have tested positive to COVID-19 since arriving in Darwin, with six sent back to their home states for treatment and the seventh being transferred on Monday.
The remaining cruise ship passengers will be quarantined at Howard Springs for at least a fortnight.
There have been 22 cases of coronavirus in Australia.
Ten people have recovered and the others are in a stable condition.
Professor Murphy said the disease had been well contained in Australia.
“There is no reason for people to feel concerned at present,” he said.
“But we are certainly aware of developments and because of the risks posed by international developments, we … have a global pandemic plan, which is based on a pre-existing and long-practised pandemic influenza plan and we are certainly preparing as a nation, for every eventuality.”
Meanwhile, 266 people who arrived on a flight from Wuhan on February 9 will leave Darwin on Monday following 14 days of isolation.
None tested positive for the disease.
Australia has imposed a travel entry ban for Chinese passengers, but relaxed the rules for year 11 and 12 students, apart from anyone who remains in the Hubei province, the epicentre of the virus outbreak.
There have been 78,811 cases worldwide and 2445 deaths.