PM urges Aussies not to travel and come home

Despite Australia lagging behind other countries in the number of coronavirus cases, officials...
Despite Australia lagging behind other countries in the number of coronavirus cases, officials are growing increasingly concerned about exponential growth in infections. Photo: Getty Images
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has 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.

Morrison said the advice was that schools should remain open as the country tries to control the spread of coronavirus that has affected about 425 people in Australia.

All non-essential indoor gatherings of 100 people or more is banned, effective immediately, from today. Outdoor gatherings of 500 people or more were banned on the weekend as the federal government tries to curb the spread of the disease.

Australia today upgraded its international travel advice to the highest level, with all citizens being told not to travel overseas.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Getty Images
Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Getty Images
Morrison said it was the first time travel advice has been escalated to "do not travel" abroad.

"Do not go overseas. That is very clear, that instruction," he told reporters in Canberra.

"For those who are thinking of going overseas in the school holidays, don't. Don't go overseas."

Mr Morrison said the biggest risk of spreading the disease had been from Australians returning from overseas.

"It is very important that Australians do not travel abroad at this time."

He said the ban on travel was indefinite, noting other countries had similar restrictions on arrivals.

CITIZENS TOLD TO COME HOME NOW 

Australia advised all its citizens abroad who want to return home to do so immediately.

"As more countries close their borders or introduce travel restrictions, overseas travel is becoming more complex and difficult," the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in updated guidance posted on its website on Tuesday.

"You may not be able to return to Australia when you had planned to."

Australia has already urged citizens to refrain from going abroad. The updated advice was issued after Morrison met with state and territory leaders to discuss strengthening restrictions on public gatherings.

From Monday it required anyone arriving from overseas would be required to self-isolate for 14 days. However, it has stopped short of taking tougher measures such as closing schools or imposing curfews.

The measures are expected to restrict tourism yet further. The Sydney Opera House, a national symbol, said it would suspend all performances until the end of the month. Australian Fashion Week, music festival Splendour in the Grass, all Cricket Australia matches and the World Surf League were all cancelled as the number of cases of coronavirus topped 400.

Despite Australia lagging behind other countries in the number of coronavirus cases, officials are growing increasingly concerned about exponential growth in infections. New South Wales, the most populous state, on Tuesday recorded its highest one-day rise in infections so far.

Tourism accounts for 3% of Australian's economy. Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said the government planned to do "everything we possibly can" to help tourism businesses, and left open the possibility of a bailout for Qantas Airways Ltd and rival Virgin Australia Holdings.

Qantas said on Tuesday it was cutting international capacity by around 90% until at least the end of May. Virgin announced deep capacity cuts last week.

The Australian Financial Review said Australia will offer refunds and waive fuel excise duties - measures worth $A715 million ($NZ721 million) to help the industry.

"We will recover," Birmingham said. "We will come out of the coronavirus and we have to make sure that we have our tour operators, our tour attractions, all of our critical tourism infrastructure and businesses able to step up and be part of that recovery as quickly as possible so that we get people back into jobs and we get funds flowing back through our economy."

STIMULUS PACKAGES

Parliament will sit next week to pass a proposed $A17.6 billion stimulus package, but the number of elected officials returning to Canberra for sessions in the house will be cut by 40% to reduce the chances of spreading the virus.

The central bank, which earlier this month cut interest rates to a historic low, has also promised extra support. It said on Monday it will unveil new measures on Thursday, as it as it pumped more liquidity into the system.

Speculation is rife Thursday's announcement would include an out-of-cycle cut to the RBA's cash rate to 0.25% together with unconventional policy measures.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the expected global downturn would be felt hardest by the poorest Australians.

"Those Australians who are likely to lose their job over the coming weeks and perhaps months will need appropriate levels of support so that we can come back stronger and better on the other side," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday.

- AAP and Reuters 

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