The Australian Federal Government has extended its coronavirus travel ban for another week amid fears a Covid-19 global pandemic will soon be declared.
The prime minister has also announced Australia is activating an emergency plan to deal with the outbreak of the coronavirus, amid expectations a global pandemic will soon be declared.
Scott Morrison said the virus had spread rapidly outside of China, which had prompted his government to elevate Australia's response.
"We believe the risk of 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.
The ban means foreign nationals who have been in mainland China are not allowed into Australia for 14 days from the time they left China.
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Australian citizens and permanent residents are able to enter Australia, but need to isolate themselves for a fortnight.
The government first introduced a 14-day travel ban for travellers from mainland China at the start of the month. It has since been extended three times.
The new travel ban will end on Saturday, 7 March. The government will review the ban again within a week.
The government at the weekend announced it would allow senior high school students from China to travel to Australia under strict protocols.
But Morrison told reporters on Thursday there were "no carve-outs" as part of the extended travel ban.
He said extending the travel ban was based on the advice of the chief medical officer and his state counterparts.
Government braces for a 'surge' in coronavirus patients
Health Minister Greg Hunt said enacting the emergency response plan meant the Federal Government would work more closely with the states to ensure there were adequate medical supplies and personal protective equipment across the country.
"One of the things we're most focused on is to make sure we have the personnel capacity if there is a surge within our hospitals and medical system," he said.
"In the event of a pandemic, the goal is to slow its spread if it gets to Australia.
"But with the number of countries that are now affected, we have to be realistic about the likelihood of containment strategies into the weeks ahead."
The scope of the emergency response will be escalated according to the spread of the disease. In the worst case, that would include:
- Cancelling large gatherings
- People having to work from home
- Elective surgeries being suspended
- Intensive care bed numbers increased
- Mortuary services prioritised
- Aged care homes locked down
- Childcare centres closed
But Morrison insisted that level of response was not yet needed.
"There is no need for us to be moving towards not having mass gatherings of people. You can still go to the football, you can still go to the cricket," Morrison said.
"You can still go 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."
The government earlier in the week warned coronavirus would hurt the Australian economy more than the summer's deadly bushfires.
Morrison said Treasury officials were yet to finalise its assessment of how damaging coronavirus was likely to be to the economy.
But the government has continued to downplay the likelihood of delivering its much-trumpeted surplus this financial year.
Sources have told the ABC if the government was to offer a stimulus package, it would be targeted towards export industries, including farmers, education and tourism sectors.