Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the number of deaths in Italy suggested a “very large outbreak”. “They’ve taken the sort of measures that a country should take to try and contain and delay further spread,” he said.
Cabinet’s national security committee decided against putting a total travel ban on Italy last week at the same time as it blocked South Korean travellers after advice from health experts. Border Force had also advised it could handle increased temperature and health screening of Italian passengers, which are a fifth of the number of South Korean travellers.
If implemented, a travel ban would see all non-Australian residents that have travelled through Italy stopped from entering Australia. Australian residents returning from Italy could also be subject to a 14-day quarantine.
The Department of Foreign Affairs updated its travel advice on Tuesday to “reconsider your need to travel to Italy” and issued a “do not travel” warning for the centre of the outbreak in the northern region of Lombardy.
Mr Hunt said the virus was “a once-in-50 year challenge” as the global death toll reaches more than 4000 and more than 100 infections are confirmed in Australia. The flu-like disease has infected more than 114,000 people globally and 64,156 have recovered.
Professor Murphy said he had yet to see evidence of significant community transmission outside of a cluster in Ryde in NSW but would “not hesitate” to shut-down public gatherings if there were more sustained transmissions across the country.
“We are reviewing this every single day,” he said. “We look at the epidemiology, we look at the pattern, each of the state and territory health departments and I get together. And if there was a reason to make significant public event moves, we would do it.”
The AFL said on Tuesday it was prepared to play games behind closed doors if large public gatherings were banned.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the Formula One Grand Prix, which will host more than 300,000 spectators over the weekend, would not be abandoned but warned the spread of the virus “will mean some very big events are cancelled”.
US pop star Miley Cyrus announced on Tuesday that she would no longer travel to Melbourne for a Bushfire Charity concert scheduled for Friday.
Leading Australian biosecurity expert Raina MacIntyre said on Monday that events like April’s Royal Easter Show in Sydney “make control harder” and “cause unnecessary infections and potentially death”.
The Easter Show reiterated its position on Tuesday.
“There are no changes to our plans, the show will go on,” a spokeswoman said. “We can only be guided by the advice we receive from the state’s leading experts.”
Eryk Bagshaw is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra