Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned Australians to prepare for a coronavirus “pandemic” as the government implements its emergency response plan.
Mr Morrison told reporters there is “every indication the world will soon enter the pandemic phase of the virus”.
He said the government had moved ahead of the World Health Organisation and was now effectively operating on the basis a pandemic had been declared.
“In the last 24 hours … the data regarding the rate of transmission of the virus outside of China is fundamentally changing the way we need to now look at how this issue is being managed here in Australia,” he said.
“We believe the risk of a global pandemic is very much upon us and as a result as a government we need to take the steps necessary to prepare for such a pandemic.”
Mr Morrison said the decision to introduce the first phase of the country’s emergency response plan was “being taken in an abundance of caution”.
“We have always acted with an abundance of caution on this issue, and that has put Australia and the strong position we are in to this time in being able to contain the impact of this virus,” he said.
“The actions we are now taking in being prepared even further, is to ensure that we can respond immediately when these, the virus moved to the next level.”
The plan includes preparations for extra controls at airports and ports, further quarantine measures and detailing how schools should react to any widespread outbreak.
The decision to implement the emergency response came after the government received new data showing the rate of cases being confirmed outside China was growing faster than those inside China.
So far there have been 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia, with a further eight Aussies catching the virus while on the Diamond Princess cruise.
Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said there was likely more cases of the coronavirus would hit Australia.
“The likelihood is somewhere sometime there is a further round of cases that may make it to Australia,” he said.
“(If) this becomes a truly global event, a truly global pandemic than it is overwhelmingly likely to have some effect.”
State and territory health ministers will meet with Mr Hunt on Friday to discuss the next steps.
Border Force has also been asked for advice on how to step up measures at ports of entry.
Education ministers will look at what steps can be taken to further protect children.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Paul Kelly, said the plan that has been activated today has been built on the plan that was created for the swine flu pandemic.
“All of the elements that are in that plan, are very similar to our pandemic influenza plan. We
learned from the pandemic 10 years ago when we had the swine flu epidemic,” he said.
“We looked at that plan and modified it on the basis what we learnt. Now we know more about this virus, how it spreads, how infectious it is, how likely it is to cause severe illness and in which type of people it may cause severe illness.”
Dr Kelly stressed that for 80 per cent of people the coronavirus is a mild illness but they were preparing for “all eventualities in terms of when it may or may not come to Australia” and how many people may be impacted.
More to come.