Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced unprecedented new control measures that will see all non-Australians travelling from mainland China stopped at the border in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The tough new measures, announced on Saturday afternoon, come as the number of Australians confirmed to have contracted coronavirus rose to 12 on Saturday with three new cases across Victoria and South Australia.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today called for all flights to be banned from China while Qantas said it would suspend services to mainland China.
Mr Morrison said all foreign travellers who have left or passed through mainland China will now be denied entry to Australia for at least the next two weeks.
Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family will be exempt from the strict measures, Mr Morrison announced.
He said there would be “advanced screening and reception arrangements” at major airports.
All Australians arriving from China will be told to “self isolate” for 14 days to ensure they are not affected.
Travellers from Hong Kong, which has a border with mainland China, are not included in the ban.
Currently, passengers arriving in New Zealand from China are proactively asked if they have flu-like symptoms. If so, a health check will be undertaken.
Director General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said today the Ministry of Health was reviewing its border measures, particularly whether it would have to restrict entry to the country.
Australians are also being told not to travel to mainland China.
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“Our first priority is the health, wellbeing and welfare of Australians; that comes first,” Mr Morrison said this afternoon.
“Our first responsibility is Australians and Australia’s national interests.”
Mr Morrison has stopped short of banning flights from mainland China entirely.
Nonetheless, Qantas and Air New Zealand have joined a growing list of carriers that will suspend all flights to and from mainland China in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
Asked why the measures were being put in place only today, Mr Morrison said that up to now the virus has been mostly only found in the Hubei province of China that is centred on Wuhan.
“The advice of the chief medical officer is that people who had been in mainland China prior to today are not presenting that risk. But the risk is beginning to escalate from now.”
He said Australians should “remain calm” about the risks of coronavirus.
“We have the best medical facilities, the best preparations, the best way of managing and maintaining things anywhere in the world,” he said.
Mr Morrison also said that all communities, including the Chinese community that has reportedly faced incidents of racism following the virus coming to light, should be supported.
Today a fourth coronavirus case was confirmed in Victoria and two case in South Australia bringing the total number of people in Australia to have contracted the virus to 12.
A Qantas 747 is preparing to leave for Wuhan via Hong Kong to allow some of the 600 Australians in the city to leave if they so wish. It’s reported evacuees will initially land in Darwin before being transported to Christmas Island for isolation.
Earlier today, Qantas said flights to mainland China would cease from 9 February but it could bring the date forward if deemed necessary. The airline said the move was due to “entry restrictions” rather than the virus specifically.
Qantas will suspend its two direct services to mainland China from Sydney to Beijing and Sydney to Shanghai from 9 February until 29 March 2020.
“This follows entry restrictions imposed by countries including Singapore and the United States, which impact the movement of crew who work across the Qantas international network,” the statement said.
“These entry restrictions pose significant logistic challenges for rostering crew to operate mainland China services, leading to the need to temporarily suspend these flights.”
Qantas’ flights to Hong Kong, which operate daily from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, will continue.
Despite being part of China, Hong Kong is an autonomous province with a physical border to the mainland. The airline said that as there are currently no restrictions on travel to Hong Kong its flights would continue to run.
“In selecting a date to suspend services Qantas is working to balance high passenger numbers in both directions – including Australian residents wanting to return home from China – with the various travel restrictions being applied.
“The suspension may be brought forward if demand levels or other factors change. The date for flights to resume will also be regularly reviewed based on the circumstances,” it said.
The carrier had announced late year it would end its Beijing service for commercial reasons in late February. The suspension will mean Beijing flights will not restart following the suspension.
Air New Zealand has also announced it will suspend its daily Auckland to Shanghai service from February 9 until late March due to a drop in bookings and crew logistics.
BAN CHINA FLIGHTS CALL
Qantas is just one of a slew of carriers to connect China and Australia. From Sydney alone, around 10 flights leave each day to destinations including the major cities as well as Changsha and Kunming.
Big carriers Air China, China Southern and China Eastern all serve multiple Australian airports while in recent years smaller players such as Xiamen Air and Hainan Airlines have also entered the market.
Earlier on Saturday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk called on the federal government to stop arrival flights from China in a bid to stop the spread of the virus.
It comes after the Trump administration announced the US was suspending the entry of foreign nationals who had travelled to China in the last 14 days. It is also redirecting flights from China to a handful of airports.
Ms Palaszczuk told reporters in Brisbane on Saturday that she backed “recommendations in relation to no more incoming flights until the virus is contained”.
“I don’t often agree with Donald Trump, but I do agree with the US authorities on this occasion that I think we should take every measure possible to combat this virus,” she added.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Scott Morrison said national security officials would hear from Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy in Sydney on Saturday.
Yesterday, the Transport Workers Union (TWU), which represents airline and airport workers, demanded the Federal Government ban flights from China over concerns about the virus spreading.
“Suspending flights originating from China may appear to be a drastic measure, but the consequence of inaction could be even more drastic,” TWU national secretary Michael Caine said.
“Air travel is the most efficient means for the virus to spread, and already has been integral to the spread of the virus to at least 18 other countries around the world.”
Professor Murphy has previously said a flight ban wouldn’t stop people from China travelling to Australia.
“Unless you lockdown exit from the country, banning flights, direct flights, doesn’t stop people coming from China,” he said.
“They could come from all sorts of other ports and at least we know who is coming from China and we can meet and do very intensive border measures for those flights.”
GOVERNMENT SAYS NO
On Friday, broadcaster Alan Jones demanded Foreign Minister Marise Payne explain why the government hadn’t grounded flights from China in a fiery on-air exchange.
The 2GB radio and Sky News host asked Ms Payne why Australia was still allowing up to 49,000 people from arrive from China each week, including on nine flights to Sydney on Friday alone.
Ms Payne said the government was working “step by step with authorities” who said it was still safe for planes to arrive from China.
“They have repeatedly told us that stopping all flights from China is not recommended at this stage and in fact no other country has stopped all flights from China,” Ms Payne said.
“We review that every single day and we will continue to do that.”
Virgin Australia, which does not fly to mainland China but has daily flights between Sydney and Melbourne and Hong Kong, said it is closely following advice from Australian medical authorities and the WHO about precautions to minimise risks from the virus, AAP reported.
British Airways has suspended all flights to mainland China, along with American Airlines, United Airlines, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines and Swiss, which have done the same.
A Qantas jet is reportedly now on its way to the Chinse ground zero city of Wuhan to evacuate Australians.
The plane will head to the autonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong first before then
New South Wales Health said on Saturday that there are four confirmed cases in the state and 12 cases under investigation. Of the four confirmed cases in the state, three people have now being discharged – a 53-year-old man, a 35-year-old man and 21-year-old woman. A 43-year-old male remains in hospital.
No new patients were confirmed overnight and 86 people who underwent tests for the virus have been cleared
In Queensland the Courier Mail has reported that eight boarders from a prestigious Brisbane school are in lockdown for a fortnight after they returned from either Hong Kong or mainland China.
John Paul College principal Karen Spiller said the move was a precaution and none of the boys had shown symptoms of the virus.