Travel ban set to be extended as fears grow over the ‘new Hubei’

Travel restrictions on Italy and South Korea are being considered at the highest levels of the Morrison government as it prepares to extend the travel ban on China and Iran and move the unprecedented coronavirus measures into a sixth week.

The number of cases in Australia has surged to 50 over the past three days as the threat of human-to-human transmission multiplies in the community – particularly from travellers returning from the four key countries. South Korea and Italy now have up to 8000 cases between them.

Health Minister Greg Hunt.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

NSW health authorities confirmed six more cases on Wednesday night, bringing the total number of positive infections in the state to 22.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said he would commit to the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee before cabinet's national security meeting on Thursday.

"If they advise for strong action we will take that action," he said.

Internally the government has received advice that Iran is "the new Hubei" – the centre of China's outbreak – raising fears up to 50,000 people could have been infected and spread the flu-like disease around the world before travel restrictions were imposed. Only 2336 cases have been confirmed so far, including 23 members of Iran's Parliament.

A ban or quarantine requirement on travellers from Italy would imperil Melbourne's Formula One grand prix, as fears mount over the future of the year's largest sporting event: the Tokyo Olympics.

Ferrari would face restrictions under the proposals being considered, which include a travel ban on Italy – where the world's oldest Formula One team is based – or a 14-day quarantine requirement for its pit crew and drivers after entering Australia. Italy has recorded more than 2500 infections over the past fortnight.

A quarantine or ban on people travelling from the country would eliminate the team from the race on March 15. Grand prix organisers said one team's omission would result in the first race of the season and Australia's largest motorsport event being cancelled. Up to 320,000 spectators are expected to attend the race in Melbourne over three days.

The threat of increased human-to-human transmission has thrown the future of events with large crowds in Australia into doubt. Attorney-General Christian Porter has begun activating laws under the Biosecurity Act that can prevent matches and concerts from going ahead.

On Wednesday health authorities revealed they had issued their first warning to a couple who had been asked to self-isolate and were failing to comply with a quarantine order after returning from a coronavirus zone.

"The powers are there," said Mr Hunt. "We will not hesitate either through the states or if required the Commonwealth."

In NSW 11 residents of the Dorothy Henderson Lodge, an aged care centre, have been isolated after a worker tested positive for coronavirus. Paramedics have offered to make home visits to help diagnose coronavirus across the state.

In Victoria a 10th person has been confirmed to have contracted coronavirus.



In a significant shift in rhetoric in Japan, the Health Ministry argued it still had a right to host the Olympic Games even if they were postponed due to the coronavirus. It has previously said only that the Games would continue in July as planned.

Japan's Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto said the host city contract "could be interpreted as allowing a postponement" before the end of the year.

"The International Olympic Committee has the right to cancel the games only if they are not held during 2020," she said.

The World Health Organisation said the world was in "uncharted territory" and that it was "monitoring the situation" in Tokyo.

US President Donald Trump said he did not know what Japan "was going to do" about the Olympics. The White House is considering imposing travel restrictions on the country that has recorded more than 1000 infections, including on the Diamond Princess Cruise Ship.

Japan, like Australia, has been gripped by panic buying as fears of a shortage of pantry, medical items and toilet paper swirl around the world, forcing supermarkets to shore up their supply chains and implement product limits.

The US followed Australia to strip stores of toilet rolls on Wednesday. In the US the death toll has risen to nine, with 125 infected.

South Korea has mobilised troops to disinfect areas affected as the number of cases surged past 5000.

The country has the largest number of any area outside China, where the spread of the epidemic has begun to slow after more than two months of draconian lockdown measures.

The Chinese Communist Party has urged work to restart in less affected areas in Shanghai and Beijing. A key measure of economic activity fell to contractionary levels for the first time in 15 years on Wednesday.

The Caixin/Markit composite purchasing managers' index, which measures the confidence and buying intentions of private businesses, halved from 51.9 in January to 27.5 in February, its lowest level on record.

The expected extension of the Australian travel ban on China until March 15 is likely to fuel anxiety among the 100,000 international students that have been locked out from attending Australia's universities since the beginning of February.

With Reuters

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