A man wearing a mask, left, rides a personal transporter past the Reserve Bank of Australia in Sydney. Picture: Rick Rycroft/AP
A man wearing a mask, left, rides a personal transporter past the Reserve Bank of Australia in Sydney. Picture: Rick Rycroft/AP

Coronavirus: Australia and New Zealand close their borders to non-residents

By Subel Bhandari and Jule Scherer Time of article published Mar 19, 2020

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Canberra/Wellington - Australia and New Zealand have both closed their borders to all visitors, except for citizens and permanent residents and their close family members. 

The travel ban means the deadline for any non-Australian-citizens or non-residents of Australia entering the country is Friday at 9 pm (1000 GMT), Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Thursday. 

Morrison said the travel ban was being put in place because "about 80 per cent of the cases" of coronavirus in Australia have come from either people returning from overseas or their relatives. 

"Measures we have put in place have obviously put an impact on that. This is a further measure now that that can be further enhanced." 

Australia has recorded at least 684 confirmed cases of Covid-19, the potentially fatal disease caused by the new coronavirus, with the number of new cases increasing each day.

A day earlier, Morrison announced a travel ban on Australians leaving the country.

"We have been thinking to align arrangements across the Tasman Sea and I appreciate the consultation that I've had with [New Zealand] Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in dealing with these issues," Morrison said on Thursday.

About half-an-hour after Morrison's announcement, Ardern also said that New Zealand was similarly closing its borders to all visitors in an attempt to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

Some key health professionals are also exempt from the New Zealand ban, which comes into force starting a minute before midnight (1059 GMT on Thursday).

Ardern said she was "increasingly concerned visitors to New Zealand are not adequately self-isolating," adding that it was "an unacceptable risk that [New Zealand] must end." 

In both Australia and New Zealand, the ban on arrival includes all visitors, as well as residents on temporary visas, like students and skilled workers. 

New Zealand confirmed on Thursday 18 new cases of Covid-19 in the past 48 hours, bringing the country's total to 28.  

The Ministry of Health said all of these related to overseas travel and there was no evidence of local transmission in New Zealand yet. 

Earlier in the morning, the New Zealand government banned indoor events with more than 100 people, but it did not apply to workplaces, schools, supermarkets or public transport.

"Protecting the health of New Zealanders is our number one priority, and that means we need to reduce the risks associated with large gatherings," Health Minister David Clark said in a statement.

The government also advised its citizens not to travel abroad.

"This is the first time the New Zealand government has advised New Zealanders against travelling anywhere overseas. That reflects the seriousness of the situation we are facing with Covid-19," Foreign Minister Winston Peters said.

He also urged all New Zealanders outside the country to consider returning home immediately.

"Borders are closing. You may not be able to return to New Zealand when you had planned to. You should, therefore, organize to come home now," he said.

Across the Tasman Sea, Australian authorities on Thursday morning put new restrictions on certain crucial medication, including limits on purchases, after people started panic buying and hoarding medicines in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Australia's deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly announced that paracetamol and the asthma medication Ventolin would only be sold behind pharmacy counters and limited their purchase to one per person in a bid to stop panic buying and hoarding. 

"Please do not buy more than you need for anything, whether that's food and particularly medicines," Kelly told reporters in Canberra.

Other government officials also asked Australians to stop hoarding in general, as Australian supermarkets have been facing mass panic buying of supplies in bulks sparked by the spread of the virus. 

"The reality is we produce enough food for 75 million people, we are just 25 million people. So there is no risk of us having any issues around food security," David Littleproud, minister for agriculture and emergency management, said.

Morrison also said there are "no issues with food supply."

"What there is an issue with is the behaviour of Australians at supermarkets. That is what is causing the distress and the strain," he said.

dpa

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