Australia

Scott Morrison says coronavirus outbreak likely to become a pandemic, initiates emergency plan

Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrives for Question Time on Thursday. Source: AAP

The travel ban on foreign nationals from China entering Australia has been extended, as the government prepares for the World Health Organization to declare a global pandemic.

The government has initiated its national emergency response plan in anticipation for the deadly coronavirus to become a global pandemic, as the number of cases outside China continues to surge.

Addressing reporters on Thursday afternoon, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt said it was likely that the coronavirus would soon be formally declared a pandemic after it spread to 42 countries.

Mr Morrison said the announcement meant they would be upping their COVID-19 preparation, including ensuring stockpiles of medical supplies and personnel. 

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"The data regarding the rate of transmission of the virus outside of China is fundamentally changing the way we need to now look at how this issue is being managed here in Australia," Mr Morrison said.

"There is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus, and as a result, we have agreed today and initiated the information of the coronavirus and emergency response plan."

Mr Morrison also announced that the travel ban on foreign nationals entering Australia from China would be extended for another week. 

For the first time since the start of the outbreak, World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday that the number of cases being reported daily outside China had surpassed those in the country where it originated.

In particular, Italy, South Korea and Iran had all recorded significant numbers of infections, but at this point, Mr Morrison said further travel bans had not been recommended.

In response to questions on the economic impacts of the virus, Mr Morrison said it was "health crisis, not a financial crisis" and the virus was "very different" to SARS, due to its higher rate of transmission.

"Already the coronavirus has taken more lives than SARS and MERS put together. The mortality rates on both of those previous conditions were much higher, but there were fewer people who contracted them," he said.

Despite the introduction of the emergency response, there have still been no recorded cases of "community transmission" in Australia.

The 15 people who contracted the virus in Wuhan before travelling to Australia have now recovered, Mr Hunt said, while another eight cases from the Diamond Princess cruise remain in quarantine. 

"There is no need for us to be moving towards having mass gatherings of people stop," Mr Morrison said.

"You can go to the football and play with your friends down the street, you can go after the concert and you can go out for a Chinese meal. You can do all of these things because Australia has acted quickly."

More than 82,000 people have so far contracted the virus worldwide, as the death toll surpassed 2,800.

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