'Do not travel overseas': Australia raises restriction to highest level

16:50 | 18/03/2020
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday (Mar 18) strongly discouraged the country's residents against all overseas travel as he declared a human biosecurity emergency and banned all non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.
do not travel overseas australia raises restriction to highest level
Tourists stand along the waterfront as a cruise ship sits moored in Sydney Harbour a day before its expected departure on Mar 17, 2020. (Photo: AFP / DAVID GRAY)

The prime minister announced at a press conference what he called an "indefinite ban" on foreign travel.

"Regardless of your destination, age or health, our advice is do not travel at this time," the foreign ministry's Smart Traveller alert said.

A spokesman for national carrier Qantas said it would continue issuing tickets to Australians wanting to leave the country on the few flights it continues to operate.

"It's advice, it's not a ban," he told AFP.

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

"We are going to keep Australia running, we are going to keep Australia functioning, (but) it won't look like it normally does," he said, warning that the measures being taken would last at least six months.

"The travel advice to every Australian is 'Do not travel abroad'. Do not go overseas," he said.

In announcing the ban on indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, Morrison excluded public transportation, shopping sites, health facilities and schools from the measure.

Australia has so far recorded more than 500 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with the numbers escalating daily. There have so far been six fatalities.

He rejected calls for the government to order schools to close, as has been done in other countries, saying the impact on society and the economy from such a closure would be "severe".

"Whatever we do we have to do for at least six months," he said, adding that among other consequences a long school closure would remove 30 per cent of workers from the health industry as parents remained home with their kids.

Morrison also flagged further economic stimulus measures.

"UN-AUSTRALIAN"

Australia's chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, also ruled out the kind of blanket shutdown that has been imposed in parts of Europe.

"A short-term, two-to-four-week shutdown of society is not recommended by any of our experts," he said, speaking alongside Morrison. "It does not achieve anything, we have to be in this for the long haul."

The bar on foreign travel came as Australia's two main airlines slashed overseas services, with Qantas axing 90 per cent of flights and Virgin Australia grounding its entire international fleet.

The latest moves to restrict foreign travel came as Australia's two main airlines slashed overseas services, with Qantas axing 90 percent of flights and Virgin Australia grounding its entire international fleet.

Sydney airport was quiet Wednesday, with a nearly empty arrivals hall and a limited number of departing flights, though check-in lanes for those were crowded.

Shea de Lorenzo, who said she made it onto a rare international flight out of Sapporo, Japan, expressed relief to have made it home.

"We're so lucky, (it was) touch and go. Really lucky," she said.

Morrison also joined supermarkets in calling for an end to panic buying, which has led to empty shelves and hit the most vulnerable hardest.

"We discourage the panic purchase of food and other supplies," Morrison said.

"Stop doing it. It's ridiculous! It's un-Australian, and it must stop ... We're all in this together."

Agencies

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