Coronavirus travel warning: Australian's told 'do not travel'

Australia has banned non-essential gatherings of 100 or more people indoors as it declares the coronavirus a human biosecurity emergency.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the states will be tasked with implementing the restrictions on social gatherings and warned Australians to prepare for at least six months of disruption to daily life. The ban is effective from Wednesday.

"This is a once in 100 year event," he said. "We haven't seen this sort of thing in Australia since the end of the first World War."

Restaurants, pubs, bars, sports clubs, RSLs and other venues are all set to be hit with patron limits, forcing some to temporarily cease trading, move to take-away only operations or shut down.

Airports, trains, trams, buses, correctional facilities, courts, supermarkets, grocery stores, retail stores, shopping centres and workplaces will be exempt. As will education facilities, including schools, universities, and childcare facilities.

"The health advice is that schools should remain open,” Mr Morrison said in Canberra on Wednesday.

"I am telling you that, as a father, I'm happy for my kids to go to school. There is only one reason your kids shouldn't be going to school and that is if they are unwell."

Mr Morrison said the international evidence showed the coronavirus did not present as much of a health risk to children. He said the economic consequences of shutting down schools would be significant.

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"The disruption that would occur from the closure of schools around this country, make no mistake, would be severe," he said. "What do I mean by severe? Tens of thousands of jobs could be lost, if not more."

Mr Morrison said aged care facilities must reduce the risk of transmission to residents, including limiting visits to short periods and a maximum of two visitors at one time per day.

"Visits should be conducted in a resident's room, outdoors or in a specific area designated by the facility, rather than communal areas where the risk of transmission to other residents is greater," he said.

"There should be no large group visits or gatherings. Including social activities or entertainment to be permitted at this time."

Mr Morrison said Australia's travel advice had been lifted to level four for the entire world.

"That is the first time that has ever happened in Australia's history," he said. "The travel advice to every Australian is 'do not travel abroad'. For those who are thinking of going overseas in the school holidays, don’t go overseas."

The national security committee declared a human biosecurity emergency on Wednesday, giving the government the power to enforce quarantine measures.

"We are going to keep Australia running," Mr Morrison said.

"It won’t look like it normally does but it is very important that we continue to put in place measures that are scalable and sustainable."

Mr Morrison said Australia should prepare for "at least six months" of disruption as health authorities attempt to get on top of the coronavirus.

"The idea that you can just turn everything off for two weeks and then turn it all back on again and it all goes away, that is not the evidence," he said.

There are now 454 cases of the disease in Australia, including 210 in NSW and 94 in Victoria. More than 197,000 cases have been confirmed around the world, causing 7905 deaths. Up to 81,000 people have recovered.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said a short-term two to four week Italian-style shut down of society was not recommended by any of Australia's experts.

"It does not achieve anything. We have to be in this for the long haul. It could be six months or more that we have to practice these new ways of interacting. So therefore, our measures have to be sustainable," he said

"There is no way that we can lock down society and make everyone stay home and then in a month's time, undo that, because the virus will just flare up again without any real long-term benefit."

Mr Morrison reiterated that for most Australians, the illness would be mild, but said for the more vulnerable, including the elderly and those with other health concerns, the disease could have serious consequences.

“This is a far more serious condition for them," he said.

Here is the government's Smart Traveller website's full statement

"We now advise all Australians: do not travel overseas at this time. This is our highest advice level (level 4 of 4).

If you are already overseas and wish to return to Australia, we recommend you do so as soon as possible by commercial means.

Regardless of your destination, age or health, our advice is do not travel at this time.

As more countries close their borders or introduce travel restrictions, overseas travel is becoming more complex and difficult. You may not be able to return to Australia when you had planned to. Consider whether you have access to health care and support systems if you get sick while overseas. If you decide to return to Australia, do so as soon as possible. Commercial options may become less available.

If you are overseas and cannot, or do not want to, return to Australia, follow the advice of local authorities. Take care to minimise your risk of exposure to coronavirus including by self-isolating. If you choose to stay, note our ability to provide consular assistance in some places may be limited due to restrictions on movement and other services.

If you decide to return to Australia, you will now be required to self-isolate for 14 days. This applies to all travellers, including Australian citizens. For details see the Australian Border Force website.

Contact your airline, travel agent or insurance company to discuss your travel plans and options for cancelling or postponing current bookings, or to arrange commercial flights back to Australia.

All cruise ships which have sailed from a foreign port have been banned from entering Australian ports for 30 days.

We have issued this advice for two principal reasons:

There may be a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 overseas. You may come in contact with more people than usual, including during long-haul flights and in crowded airports. Health care systems in some countries may come under strain and may not be as well-equipped as Australia's or have the capacity to support foreigners. You may not have your normal support networks overseas.
Overseas travel has become more complex and unpredictable. Many countries are introducing entry or movement restrictions. These are changing often and quickly. Your travel plans may be disrupted. You may be placed in quarantine or denied entry to some countries, and you may need to self-quarantine on return to Australia. Think about what this might mean for your health, and your family, work or study responsibilities.

All of the above advice has also been provided to Australian Government staff, who have been instructed to instead use video-conferencing and other communication technologies as much as possible. 

The Foreign Minister decided on 17 March to offer voluntary departures globally for all dependants of staff at our overseas posts, staff at high risk due to underlying health conditions and staff the head of mission considers non-essential for ongoing operations.

For more information see our Coronavirus (COVID-19) – information for Australian travellers page.

For urgent consular assistance contact:

+61 2 6261 3305 from overseas 
1300 555 135 from within Australia
+61 421 269 080 from SMS

For non-urgent inquiries, email smartraveller@dfat.gov.au

 

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