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Scott Morrison has urged Australians to stay calm despite initiating the federal government’s coronavirus emergency response plan as it anticipates a global pandemic.
The World Health Organisation has not yet formally declared a global pandemic but the Prime Minister said Australia was effectively operating on the basis there is one.
‘‘We believe that 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,’’ Morrison said yesterday.
The Government was acting from an abundance of caution and at present the virus was being managed in Australia.
‘‘You can still go to the football, you can still go to the cricket, you can still go and play with your friends down the street, you can go off to the concert and you can go out for a Chinese meal,’’ Morrison said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt warned Parliament the ‘‘arc of the virus’’ continues to expand with confirmed first cases reported in Algeria, Brazil, Greece and Pakistan.
‘‘Against that background, the very clear message for Australians is that we are not immune but we are well prepared,’’ he said.
There are more than 81,300 people diagnosed with Covid-19 worldwide and 2770 recorded deaths.
However, Hunt said there were only 15 diagnosed cases within the Australian general public - all now cleared - and eight
Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers being treated in their home states.
Under the emergency response plan, health ministers around the country are making sure their hospital and medical systems are prepared to deal with an influx of cases, the Border Force commissioner is examining what extra measures should be set up at airports and ports of entry, and education ministers are putting arrangements in place for school students.
Hunt is working closely with his state counterparts to make sure there are stockpiles of medicines and protective equipment for hospitals and border agents and that supply chains are protected.
The Government also extended the ban on travellers entering Australia from China for another week.
Panic over the spread of the virus has taken an ugly turn at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital where staff and patients have been discriminated against.
Parents have refused to let doctors and nurses of Asian appearance treat their children or are sitting away from other patients because of fears surrounding coronavirus.
• US President Donald Trump told Americans yesterday the risk from coronavirus remained ‘‘very low’’, and placed Vice-president Mike Pence in charge of the US response to the looming global health crisis.
At a White House briefing, Trump defended his Administration’s handling of the crisis and said health experts were ‘‘ready, willing and able’’ to move quickly if the virus spread.
He said the spread of the virus in the United States was not ‘‘inevitable’’ and added: ‘‘It probably will, it possibly will. It could be at a very small level, or it could be at a larger level. Whatever happens we’re totally prepared.’’
Initial action stage
• Health Minister Greg Hunt assumes powers under Biosecurity Act.
• Enhanced border screening.
• Medical stockpiles deployed to states and territories ready for use.
• Potential outbreaks investigated.
• National response co-ordinated with states and territories.
Targeted action stage
Triggered by declaration of pandemic by WHO or large-scale, sustained transmission in Australia.
• Department of Health co-ordinating response.
• Health services surging staff numbers.
• Items from National Medical Stockpile distributed.
• Consideration of any border or social distancing measures.
• Response could be scaled up or down based on spread of virus.
• Replenishing medical stockpiles.
• Resuming elective or non-urgent medical procedures.
• Monitoring for second wave of virus.
- AAP and Reuters