'Risk Of Global Pandemic Is Upon Us': PM Launches Coronavirus Emergency Response Plan
Scott Morrison has announced a coronavirus emergency response plan for Australia as the global threat from the virus rises.
Speaking to reporters at Parliament House on Thursday, Morrison said the government had received medical advice which indicated that the world would soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus.
"While the World Health Organisation is yet to declare the nature of the coronavirus and its move towards a pandemic phase, 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," he said.
Morrison said the government was being "abundantly cautious" but admitted it was necessary to be "realistic" because of the number of countries now with confirmed cases.
"What has occurred in particular in the last 24 hours is 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," he said.
Authorities confirmed there have been no new cases of the virus in Australia. The 15 confirmed cases have now all been cleared and the number of infected people who were quarantined in Darwin last week from the Diamond Princess cruise ship remains at eight.
The PM said the emergency response plan would be used to identify any gaps in capabilities at the various stages that a potential pandemic may proceed to.
The report lays out a strategy for "whole of government planning" to address the coronavirus outbreak.
It warns that, despite Australia's "excellent" healthcare system, "there is a limit to the services that are able to be provided, which may well be tested during an outbreak of a novel coronavirus with pandemic potential".
"There is no need for us to be moving to stop having mass gatherings of people," Morrison said on Thursday.
You can still go to the football and play with your friends down the street, you can go out to the concert and you can go out for a Chinese meal.
"You can do all of these things because Australia has acted quickly, Australia has gone 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."
Health Minister Greg Hunt also said it was important that Australia had achieved containment so far.
"The preparedness of state health systems, the preparedness of critical medicine, these are all the things that we now move towards and the preparation of potential fever clinics in case this were to evolve still further," Hunt said of the emergency response plan.
He said the initiation of the plan would impact a number of different groups and industries.
Education: Greater Caution Advised
Morrison said he had tasked state and federal education ministers to work together in relation to the impact on schools.
"There is no evidence before us that children are at any greater risk," he 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 an extreme level... that we have the preparedness and arrangements in place."
Morrison said while the government was aware a large number of students have been unable to return to school and have missed the beginning of the academic year, there would be no additional exemptions to Australia's China travel ban, which is also being extended.
"That continues being monitored on a weekly basis," the Prime Minister said of the ban.
It comes less than a week after Hunt announced the travel ban would be lifted for some year 11 and 12 students from outside Hubei province, where the COVID-19 outbreak first occurred.
It's understood there are about 400 year 12 students and 360 year 11 students already enrolled in Australian schools who cannot enter the country due to travel restrictions and were told they could apply for an exemption to the ban.
But on Thursday, Morrison said there would be "no carve-outs" to the extended travel ban.
Tighter Border Control Measures
The PM also revealed Border Force had been asked for advice on how to step up measures at ports of entry to Australia.
He said this included the identification of people "coming from wherever in the world" who may require additional information regarding quarantine.
Asked if this would involve screening anyone that may look unwell coming off any flight that lands in Australia, Morrison said that would form part of the Border Force Commissioner's plan.
Australia's plan to fight spread of coronavirus
In its report, the government says it will implement a number of steps to tackle the coronavirus outbreak throughout all "supply chains" including to:
- monitor and investigate outbreaks as they occur
- identify and characterise the nature of the virus and the clinical severity of the disease
- research respiratory disease-specific management strategies
- respond promptly and effectively to minimise the novel coronavirus outbreak impact
- undertake strategies to minimise the risk of further disease transmission
- contribute to the rapid and confident recovery of individuals, communities and services.
The report also discusses the likelihood of the development of a vaccine, saying while it is an effective way to prevent infection with respiratory viruses such as influenza, there is not one readily available for the new virus.
"There is also still no vaccine available for SARS or MERS," the report says.
"It is unlikely that a vaccine will be available during the course of a novel coronavirus pandemic unless the pandemic is long-lasting and vaccine development is extraordinarily fast. Developments in this area will be closely watched."
The Virus Spread So Far
These are the latest coronavirus figures reported by each government's health authority as of Thursday.
Global: more than 82,000 cases diagnosed
Mainland China: 2744 deaths among 78,497 cases, mostly in the central province of Hubei
Hong Kong: 81 cases, 2 deaths
Macao: 10 cases
South Korea: 1595 cases, 13 deaths
Japan: 894 cases, including 705 from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, 7 deaths
Italy: 447 cases, 12 deaths
Iran: 139 cases, 19 deaths
United States: 60
Taiwan: 32 cases, 1 death
France: 17 cases, 2 deaths
United Arab Emirates: 13
United Kingdom: 13
Philippines: 3 cases, 1 death
North Macedonia: 1
Sri Lanka: 1