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Australia's Top Doctor Says 'Stop Panic Buying' As Coronavirus Fear Hits Supermarkets

Some Australians are struggling to get hold of basic household items as Coronavirus panic buying has hit certain supermarkets and chemists, but shoppers have been told 'there's no reason' to do it.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone has warned the public's reaction to the deadly COVID-19 virus has been disproportionate.

Dr Bartone said "there's no reason to go out and panic buy," in response to images of supermarket shelves stripped bare of toilet paper, hand sanitiser, face masks and essential foods.

Coles in Chatswood, on Sydney's Lower North Shore has had its shelves stripped bare of rice. Image: 10 News First

Speaking on ABC Melbourne, Dr Bartone said the healthcare sector had been hit with stress on supply of gloves and face masks to workers.

"We need to ensure that there is no breakdown in that supply chain to the frontline healthcare staff," he said.

"They're going to be crucial in the response over coming weeks and months."

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The warning comes as News Corp reports families with young children are struggling to buy essential baby items, with a shortage of some baby formulas, nappies, wipes and hand sanitiser claimed by some worried parents.

Coles in Chatswood, on Sydney's Lower North Shore has had its shelves stripped almost bare of tissues. Image: 10 News First

Reports of panic buying have come from all over the country, with shoppers taking to Twitter to complain that they can't buy basic items such as pasta, rice, flour and toilet paper.

One major hospital has also told 10 News First has had to lock down key supplies to stop pilfering by staff.

Shoppers claimed they were hit with toilet paper buying limits at some stores. Image: Facebook

'No Longer Possible To Prevent New Cases'

Meanwhile, the nation's chief medical officer says Australia can no longer keep new coronavirus cases out of the country.

Professor Brendan Murphy made the comment while explaining why Australia has banned arrivals from virus-hit Iran, but not two other major hotspots, Italy and South Korea.

"It is no longer possible to absolutely prevent new cases coming in, given the increasing changes in epidemiology around the country," Murphy told reporters on Monday.

He said the Iran outbreak was considered high risk, and the travel ban was considered an effective strategy to slow the spread of the disease.

But a different view has been taken on Italy and South Korea, where outbreaks are considered contained, confined and localised.

"In the case of Iran, it's such a high risk that a travel ban is worth doing because it will slow down the number of cases," Murphy said.

"In Italy and South Korea, where they have large outbreaks but they are confined and (have) been localised, the risk, the proportionality of putting in a travel ban was not justified in terms of its benefits to the health protection of the Australian community."

The government has upgraded its travel advice for Italy.

Australians intending to travel there have been told to exercise a high degree of caution across the entire country and to reconsider the need to travel to 10 virus affected towns in Italy's north.

Minister for Health Greg Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy give an update on the coronavirus at a press conference at Parliament House. Image: AAP

Health Minister Greg Hunt also said any health and aged-care workers returning from Italy and South Korea must not go to work for two weeks because they could infect vulnerable populations at greatest risk of dying.

"As a healthcare worker, or as a residential aged care worker, you should not attend your regular work for 14 days," Hunt said.

"That is an additional level of protection which has been advised by the chief health and medical officers and accepted by the Australian government."

The warnings come as the number of countries hit by the coronavirus pass 60 and Australia reported its first death linked to the virus.

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More than 87,000 people worldwide have been infected, and nearly 3000 have died as a result of the virus.

China, where the outbreak began two months ago, reported a slight uptick in new cases in the past 24 hours to 573, the first time in five days that the number exceeded 500. The cases remain almost entirely confined to the hardest-hit province of Hubei and its capital, Wuhan.

Many cases of the virus have been relatively mild, and some of those infected apparently show no symptoms at all. That can allow for easier spread.

Meanwhile, Stocks have been sent plummeting, with Wall Street suffering its worst week since the 2008 financial crisis.