MELBOURNE (REUTERS, AFP) - Australia will maintain an entry ban on foreign nationals from mainland China for another week to reduce the risk of exposure to the coronavirus, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday (Feb 13).
Australia has 15 cases of the virus but has not had any new cases since the travel ban was first put in place on Feb 1, Mr Morrison said. The ban will be reviewed each week.
"Our current measures are working, they are effective, they are doing the job," he told a press conference in Canberra. "That's why this afternoon we have agreed to accept recommendations to maintain the ban on entry restrictions."
Australian citizens and permanent residents returning home are exempt from the ban but are required to isolate themselves for 14 days after their arrival.
The health department said that all but one of the 15 cases in Australia involved people who had come from Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the outbreak was first identified late last year.
Five people who had been ill have since recovered, the department said.
"I just want to assure all Australians, that we are doing everything we can to keep Australians safe at this time, and to ensure that we are mitigating everything that is possible to address any of the threats," Mr Morrison said.
The government's decision is a blow to Australian tourism operators, which have seen business from Chinese visitors dry up, as well as for tens of thousands of Chinese students hoping to return to Australia for the new academic year.
China's official death toll and infection numbers from a new coronavirus spiked dramatically on Thursday after the authorities changed their counting methods, fuelling concern that the epidemic is far worse than being reported.
The virus has now officially killed more than 1,350 people in China and the World Health Organisation has warned the disease has not yet peaked.