Aussies abroad should fly home ASAP: DFAT

AAP reporters
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CORONAVIRUS PLANE

Travel advice issued by DFAT says Australians overseas should return home immediately

Australians are being urged to fly home as soon as possible to avoid being stranded overseas due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Travel advice issued on Tuesday evening by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Australians should return home before the virus caused more borders to close.

Travellers are also being urged to reconsider their need to go overseas.

"If you're already overseas and wish to return to Australia, we recommend you do so as soon as possible by commercial means," the advice read.

"You may not be able to return to Australia when you had planned to. Consider whether you have access to health care and support systems if you get sick while overseas."

From midday on Tuesday Australians were no longer able to travel to Europe, with an initial EU ban in place for 30 days.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is meeting the national cabinet on Tuesday evening, with new precautionary measures likely to be announced on Wednesday.

As COVID-19 cases in Australia near 450, an increase of nearly 300 since Friday, the nation's chief medical officers are giving the government advice on how to best protect residents in aged care homes and at indoor gatherings.

Non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people have already been banned.

Most schools are already taking precautions, including cancelling excursions and assemblies.

A number of private schools have independently taken the decision to move to online classes.

Chief medical officers haven't ruled out school closures but they're being cautious about the idea.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said they were hesitant about closing schools for two reasons.

The first is that young people are less likely to contract the illness, or have a serious case compared to the elderly.

Closing schools would also impact the health profession with parents having to take a break from work to look after their kids, and possibly result in grandparents spending more time with children.

Mr Hunt said the same reasoning applied to potential child care closures.

The national cabinet chaired by Mr Morrison is also expected to make decisions relating to aged care homes - with some already temporarily banning visitors.

Mr Hunt says the government's focus is protecting the vulnerable.

Telehealth services will be extended to midwives as well as specialist services like mental health support, Mr Hunt added.

Australia has also received about 230,000 P2 protective masks which will be shared across the states.

More testing kits are being rolled out as doctors raise concerns about a possible shortage.

The government is also trying to boost local production of protective medical supplies such as surgical face masks, sanitiser, goggles and gowns.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said social distancing was the most important thing people could do to curb the spread of the virus.

"The measures we put in place could be in place for several weeks if not months," he said.

Professor Murphy also implored panic buyers to stop stripping the shelves of essential items.

"This panic buying is just stupid and I really encourage Australians to take a deep breath and just buy what you need," he said.

Mr Morrison is basing himself in Canberra as the nation braces for months of trying to stop the virus.

The federal government has flagged a second round of economic stimulus measures on top of the $17.6 billion package announced last week.

People have been told to not visit remote regions, in a bid to protect indigenous communities.

All people arriving from overseas must self-quarantine for 14 days and cruise ships are barred from Australian ports for at least 30 days.

Many courts have suspended in-person hearings and jury trials.