Australians are again being told not to panic as coronavirus continues to spread around the world and state and federal governments prepare to ramp up their responses to the crisis.
Health ministers from across the country are gathering in Melbourne on Friday to discuss how the nation will respond to the dramatic spread of the infection around the world.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned the virus, also known as COVID-19, was highly transmissible, particularly amongst the elderly.
But he also noted there were no cases of person-to-person transmission within the Australian community.
“So you can go to the footy, you can go out to the Chinese restaurant – in fact I encourage you to,” he told Nine’s Today show on Friday.
“You can just get about your business. If you are a kid you can go off to school, play with your mate, do all of those things.
“Australia is in the best-placed position to be prepared for this than anywhere else, and so we just want to make sure it stays that way.”
Deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly says authorities have looked at a range of scenarios on the potential severity of an outbreak, including comparisons to common cold or flu virus infections.
“It may be a one-off wave that comes through and infects a certain percentage of the population, it won’t be everybody I can absolutely guarantee that, or it won’t come at all – all of those things are still possible, I think the latter one is less likely now,” Professor Kelly told ABC Radio National on Friday.
But if the virus does start to spread in Australia, “we won’t be dragging people off” like China has done.
Overnight on Thursday the World Health Organisation said the coronavirus outbreak, which began in China’s Hubei province in December, had reached a “decisive point” and urged countries to redouble efforts to contain its spread.
It’s now affecting 47 countries, has killed more than 2,800 people and infected more than 82,500.
“This virus has pandemic potential,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned.
The federal government has recently activated its coronavirus emergency response plan in anticipation that the WHO will soon officially declare a global pandemic.
Prof Kelly was “a bit surprised” the World Health Organisation hadn’t yet declared a pandemic.
State and territory health ministers have been asked to show how they are prepared in terms of shoring up the supply of medical items such as masks and medicines and ensuring there is a “surge capacity” in hospitals.
Both the prime minister and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton also warned the global spread of the virus will have a “big impact’ on the Australian economy.
“We have a strong, stable financial base to address this, but we can’t kid ourselves that the impact of the coronavirus globally, here in Australia, is not going to be significant,” Mr Morrison said.
The meeting of health ministers comes as travel restrictions on people entering Australia from China were extended for another week.
Australian Border Force is drawing up plans for extra measures at airports and shipping ports to ensure travellers suspected of having the virus can be quarantined or self-quarantined quickly.
So far 15 people in Australia have been diagnosed with coronavirus cases and all have been cleared. Another eight, who were caught on the Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers in Japan, are being treated in their home states.