Scott Morrison Extends China Travel Ban As Coronavirus Fears Continue
The Australian government has announced it is extending a travel ban for visitors arriving from mainland China, over ongoing fears of the potentially deadly coronavirus.
Scott Morrison confirmed on Thursday afternoon that the two-week ban would remain in place for at least another week, following talks with the country's chief health authorities.
The ban excludes Australian citizens and permanent residents.
"We did not make this decision lightly, we are very mindful of the disruption and economic impacts of these arrangements," Morrison said.
"I just want to assure all Australians that we are doing everything we can to keep Australians safe."
Morrison said Australia is one of 58 countries to introduce some sort of travel ban over the ongoing virus fears.
DFAT will also maintain its travel advice for mainland China at "do not travel" until there is a "material change in the global situation."
But on Thursday evening China's Embassy in Canberra said it "deeply regretted" and was "dissatisfied" over the government's decision to extend the travel bam.
"WHO has repeatedly stressed that it does not recommend putting travel and trade restrictions on China. Only Australia and a small number of countries have taken such extreme measures which are overreaction indeed," a spokesperson said in a statement.
"We urge the Australian side to assess objectively and rationally the prevention and control measures taken by the Chinese side and the actual risk faced by Australian side, respect WHO’s professional recommendations, and lift the restrictions as early as possible."
It comes as the coronavirus death toll saw its highest daily spike after an additional 242 people died overnight in China, bringing the total number of deaths in the Hubei province to more than 1300.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the key concern was the spread of the virus, officially known as COVID-19, across China.
"There has been significant growth in Hubei," Murphy said.
"In other provinces of China there has been slow growth .... but still growth."
"That is of concern because there is still evidence of community transmission in other provinces and that is the reason we would like to maintain the travel ban at the moment."
There are currently 15 confirmed cases of the virus in Australia. In some good news on Thursday, NSW confirmed all four patients diagnosed in the state have now been released from hospital.
It brings the total number of cleared cases in the state to six, with the remaining nine all in stable conditions.
Thursday's announcement of the extended travel ban comes as most Australian universities prepare to start their academic year in the coming weeks.
The Prime Minister said the government was working closely with schools, universities and the tourism sector.
"We are taking a cautious approach ... this is why we are on a weekly rotation in the review of this," he said.
"We are looking at all options that are available to us to mitigate the impact where possible."
Universities Australia chief Catriona Jackson said universities will quickly contact their Chinese students to ensure they understand how the extension of travel restrictions affect them and to provide support.
"We know the decision to extend these restrictions will be difficult for many students during what is already a very stressful time," she said.
"To all those whose plans have been affected, I assure you we are doing everything possible to minimise disruption to your studies, and to protect the health and welfare of every student."