Australia is activating an emergency plan to deal with the escalating outbreak of the deadly coronavirus, amid expectations a global pandemic will be declared within days.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the move late on Thursday.
“Based on the expert medical advice we have received, there is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus,” he said.
“As a result we have agreed today and initiated the information of the
coronavirus and emergency response plan.”
The plan means the government can move quickly if the World Health Organisation declares the escalating outbreak of COVID-19 a pandemic, as is expected within days.
As part of the new plan, the government has extended the travel ban on people coming from China for a further week. The new ban will end on March 7.
“We believe the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us and as a result as a government we need to take the steps necessary to prepare for such a pandemic,” Mr Morrison said.
The emergency plan includes preparations for extra controls at airports and ports, further quarantine measures and detailing how schools should react to any widespread outbreak.
“There is no evidence before us that children are at any greater risk,” Mr Morrison said.
“But we do believe, to take care of our kids, that we needed an even greater abundance of caution to ensure that should the coronavirus
move to a extreme level … that we have the preparedness and arrangements in place.”
The federal government’s move comes as more than 82,000 cases of coronavirus have been diagnosed around the world. They include the first diagnosed case in the US of a patient who has no travel pattern related to COVID-19, nor any contact with anyone who has.
Mainland China still accounts for the vast number of cases, and deaths, but the outbreak is now spreading faster outside China than inside it. There are more recent outbreaks of growing concern in Italy, Iran, France, Germany and Brazil.
Despite the extended measures, Mr Morrison maintained the outbreak was well under control in Australia.
“There is no need for us to be moving to having mass gatherings of people stop,” he said.
“You can go to the football and the cricket, and play with your friends down the street, you can go out for a Chinese meal,” he said.
“You can do all of these things because Australia has acted quickly, Australia has got ahead of this at this point in time. But to stay ahead of it we need to now elevate our response to the next phase.”
The number of Australian cases of COVID-19 remains at 22, including eight people evacuated from the stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship. There have been no virus fatalities in Australia.
-more to come