The Australian government has defended its decision to ban foreign visitors entering Australia from Iran to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, rather than South Korea which has a much higher level of cases.
Under similar restrictions imposed on China at the beginning of February, the government announced on Saturday that foreign nationals who have been in Iran will be banned from entering Australia for 14 days.
Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family who have travelled to Iran will be required to self isolate at home for 14 days from the day they left the country.
There have been 388 COVID-19 cases reported out of Iran, compared to 2,300 in South Korea, However, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said that Iran has the highest number of deaths, 43, of any country outside of China.
It’s also the highest reported death rate outside the epicentre of the virus in Hubei province, China.
“As the chief medical officer has pointed out, it’s not possible to extend the ban to every country and we’ll see what phase we move into next,” Dutton told ABC television’s Insiders program on Sunday.
He said there was a concern surrounding the lack of reporting coming out of Iran and whether they have a handle on their numbers of cases.
“Obviously, South Korea has a more advanced health system and they have been reporting numbers for a period of time. So I think they are key differences between those different markets,” he said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said he had asked the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee in its daily reviewing of travel advisories to consider the appropriate level for Italy, which recorded a further eight deaths overnight.
“I have specifically asked them today to consider whether or not the current arrangements need to be changed in any way, shape or form,” he told reporters in Melbourne.
The new travel restrictions came in on Sunday as NSW Chief Heath Officer Kerry Chant confirmed a fifth person in the state had contracted the virus, a man in his 40s who arrived in Sydney from Iran.
“Travellers from Iran should be particularly vigilant for symptoms as there has been a rapid increase in COVID-19 activity there in recent days,” Dr. Chant said in a statement.
There was another man in his 50s who was also under investigation for possible COVID-19 based on his preliminary lab results.
If confirmed, it would bring the total cases in Australia to 27, including those evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was moored off Yokohama, Japan.
One of those, a 63-year-old Gold Coast beautician who returned to Australia from Iran on Monday, began feeling ill on Thursday while at work.
She saw up to 40 people at the Hair Plus salon at Australia Fair at Southport and now remains in isolation.
Hunt said as of Saturday Queensland authorities were making “significant progress” in tracking down those customers.
Worldwide numbers of coronavirus cases stand at more than 85,000 and there have been over 2900 deaths reported across 58 countries.
By Colin Brinsden