The Australian government has extended its ban on international arrivals who have travelled through China for a fourth week due to the novel coronavirus crisis, despite the increasing pressure on the economy and the start of the university year.
The ban, which has been in force since 1 February and was initially scheduled for 14 days, will continue into a fourth week.
Announcing the extension on Thursday, the government said in a statement that the number of coronavirus cases in Hubei province continued to grow, but was slowing elsewhere.
“We will need to watch closely whether this positive trend continues as people return to work after the holidays,” the statement said.
The government’s approach to preventing the spread of the disease in Australia continued to be successful, it said, with the number of cases remaining at 15.
The Australian economy faces an estimated $8bn hit due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, which is expected to cost the global economy US$1.1tn.
The ban has hit the higher education sector particularly hard, stranding an estimated 65,800 international visa-holding students in China, with universities reportedly preparing for a $1.2bn loss of income while scrambling to accommodate remote learning and to manage the effect on staff workloads, particularly casual staff.
The National Tertiary Education Union has called on the federal government to create a support package for the sector.
The union’s president, Alison Barnes, said the consequences of the ban were becoming increasingly serious.
“Many of our casual members have not had paid work for months over the Christmas period and the prospect of losing hours as a result of the coronavirus is a material and pressing concern for them,” Barnes said.
Under the restrictions, foreign nationals who have travelled through mainland China are not allowed to enter Australia for 14 days from the time they left.
Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family are exempt from the ban, but are required to self-isolate for 14 days – the incubation period of the virus – on their return to Australia if they have been in mainland China since 1 February.
On Thursday, 75,660 cases of Covid-19 had been recorded worldwide, including 62,031 in Hubei province, where the virus emerged. More than 2,000 people have died.
All those diagnosed in Australia contracted the disease in Wuhan, except for one person who had contact with a person with the virus in China.
Ten Australian patients have recovered from the virus, the most recent being an eight-year-old boy, a Chinese national from Wuhan, who was confirmed to have the virus in early February. He has recovered and was discharged from hospital on Wednesday evening, Queensland Health announced on Thursday.
About 170 Australians who had been aboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess arrived in Darwin on Thursday morning on a charter flight organised by the Australian government. After more than two weeks in quarantine aboard the ship in Yokohama, Japan, they will now embark upon a further 14-day quarantine period in the Manigurr-ma workers village in Howard Springs, on the outskirts of Darwin.
They will be housed separately from the 266 Australians evacuated from Wuhan a week ago, who are currently waiting out their quarantine period in the village.
Ten Australians from the cruise ship were told they could not leave because they had tested positive to the virus. Another 15 chose to stay in Japan to be near family members who have been taken to hospital after contracting it.
Of the 3,700 passengers on board the Diamond Princess, 621 have been confirmed to have contracted the virus, including 36 Australians. The ship is the largest cluster of Covid-19 cases outside of Wuhan. Two passengers, an elderly Japanese couple, who were hospitalised with the virus on 11 and 12 February, died on Thursday.
By Stephanie Convery