Australia warns COVID-19 pandemic now 'upon us'

08:49 | 28/02/2020
Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country considered COVID-19 to be a pandemic Thursday, (Feb 27) going a step beyond the WHO as he extended a travel ban on visitors from China.
australia warns covid 19 pandemic now upon us
Australia has reported 22 cases of the new coronavirus, but none that were contracted or passed from person-to-person inside the country AFP/PETER PARKS

Announcing a national emergency response plan to the coronavirus, Morrison said he was considering "additional measures" for monitoring travellers arriving in the country.

Hospitals are under orders to ensure there are enough medical supplies, personal protective equipment and staff, the prime minister added.

"We're effectively operating now on the basis that there is one - a pandemic," Morrison said.

"There is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus."

The World Health Organization has stopped short of calling the virus a pandemic, even as the number of new infections outside China exceed those inside the hardest-hit country.

More than 2,700 people have died in China and some 78,000 have been infected. There have been more than 50 deaths and 3,600 cases in dozens of other countries.

The extended travel ban will come as a blow to Australian universities which stand to lose US$2 billion in fees as tens of thousands of Chinese students are unable to take up places Down Under.

Students stuck in China "have been provided with a range of options", said Catriona Jackson, chief executive of Universities Australia, which represents the sector.

They include postponing start dates, delaying assessments, fee-free deferrals and accessing course content online.

Australia has reported 22 infections, but none that were contracted or passed from person-to-person inside the country.

Morrison's warning comes as he scrambles to burnish his leadership credentials after fierce criticism of his handling of the months-long bushfire crisis.

His government is also embroiled in a deepening political scandal over the funnelling of taxpayer money into areas his coalition targeted in last year's election.

One minister has already been forced to resign as a result.


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