Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Wednesday, March 18, that the government has - in an unprecedented move - updated its travel advisory to Level 4 "Do Not Travel" due to the ongoing international outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials are advising all Australians abroad to return as soon as possible.
The office of the prime minister also confirmed more domestic and international measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19. From Wednesday, officials are banning indoor gatherings of more than 100 people. However, this does not apply to essential activities such as public transport, shopping centers, or pharmacies. Venues gathering less than 100 people such as cinemas, restaurants, cafes, and other entertainment venues will be required to apply social distance measures including maintaining a distance of 1.5 m (4.9 ft) between clients, and practice good hygiene. A previous ban on outdoor gatherings of more than 500 individuals remains in place on March 18. Officials subsequently announced the cancelation of all Anzac Day celebrations scheduled on Saturday, April 25. While educational institutes remain open, authorities are advising Australians to avoid any non-essential travel domestically.
Foreign nationals traveling from or through China, Iran, South Korea, and Italy in the 14 days prior to their scheduled arrival to Australia will be denied entry to the country. Australian citizens and permanent residents returning from the aforementioned countries will be required to undergo a 14-day self-quarantine. All other foreign nationals arriving in Australia are required to self-isolate for 14 days.
On Monday, March 16, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declared a State of Emergency (SoE) for four weeks in the state starting from 12:00 (local time). Under the SoE, health officials have the authority to detain people, search premises without a warrant, and force areas into lockdown when required. Individuals who do not comply with the directives from health officials could receive a fine of up to AUD 20,000, while corporations that do not comply could be fined up to AUD 100,000.
As of March 18, the Department of Health (DOH) has confirmed 454 cases of COVID-19 nationwide and five associated fatalities. With 210 confirmed cases, New South Wales state has the highest number of recorded cases as of March 18. Further spread of the virus is expected in the near term.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported on December 31 and the source of the outbreak has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan (Hubei province, China). Human-to-human and patient-to-medical staff transmission of the virus have been confirmed. Many of the associated fatalities have been due to pneumonia caused by the virus.
Cases of the virus have been confirmed in numerous countries and territories worldwide. Virus-screening and quarantining measures are being implemented at airports worldwide, as well as extensive travel restrictions. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Pneumonia symptoms include dry cough, chest pain, fever, and labored breathing. Pneumonia can be contagious and can be transmitted from human to human. The influenza virus, or the flu, is a common cause of viral pneumonia.
Measures adopted by local authorities evolve quickly and are usually effective immediately. Depending on the evolution of the outbreak in other countries, authorities are likely to modify, at very short notice, the list of countries whose travelers are subject to border control measures or entry restrictions upon their arrival to the territory in question. It is advised to postpone nonessential travel due to the risk that travelers may be refused entry or be subject to quarantine upon their arrival or during their stay.
To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, travelers are advised to abide by the following measures:
- Frequently clean hands by applying an alcohol-based hand rub or washing with soap and water.
- When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue; if used, throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands.
- If experiencing a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, or any other symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness, including pneumonia, call emergency services before going to the doctor or hospital to prevent the potential spread of the virus.