Italy briefly overtook South Korea as the worst-hit country outside China on Sunday, when confirmed cases jumped 1300 in a single day to 6387. South Korea, which is subject to a travel ban along with China and Iran, announced on Monday it had 7382 cases. Australia has put enhanced screening measures in place for travellers from Italy.
The virus is now present in more than 100 countries, with more than 80 confirmed cases in Australia.
The nation’s Chief Medical Officer, Brendan Murphy, said on Monday the expert advice to the government from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which he chairs, was that existing travel bans were precautionary and no more were recommended.
“You cannot fully isolate the country,” Professor Murphy told reporters in Melbourne. “When you’ve got more than 100 countries with cases, and rapidly growing, you can’t put travel bans on every country that has a risk of importation.”
University of Queensland virologist Ian Mackay said “it does become a bit pointless” to impose travel bans on individual countries when “so many have cases”.
“In the next weeks, we’ll see the number of cases in all these countries growing exponentially and they’ll all become a risk,” he said.
The Italian government plans to quarantine 16 million people in the country’s north, including in Milan and Venice. The number of confirmed cases in the United Kingdom hit 273 on Sunday, including three deaths, up 30 per cent on the previous day.
Professor Murphy said the growing number of cases in recent days in the US – where 500 infections have been reported including 22 deaths – “are of concern … there is a suggestion that there may be not as many cases being tested as necessary”.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.