'Act immediately': Calls for Australia to close borders to avoid coronavirus crisis

Tom Flanagan
News Reporter

Australia must close its borders and shut down day-to-day life if it is to avoid an ever-growing coronavirus crisis similar to what has occurred in Italy, the Grattan Institute’s chief executive has warned.

The public policy think tank’s John Daley said the Australian government has a key decision to make when it comes to their efforts in curtailing the rapid growth of coronavirus cases in the country.

LIVE: Coronavirus news and updates

He believes if drastic “social distancing” action – albeit detrimental to the economy – is taken “immediately”, Australia can successfully contain and subsequently eliminate the virus.

“We can introduce very significant social distancing now and also potentially close the airports to foreign travellers,” Mr Daley told The Australian.

“The consequence of that would be you would probably see the number of cases in Australia drop to zero.”

These measures include the closure of schools, universities, childcare centres and ending public gatherings.

South Australia Hospital staff at a coronavirus testing station. Source: AAP

He noted several countries including Japan appeared to have successfully implemented such measures, drastically reducing the spread of the virus.

“These aggressive efforts to prevent the spread of the virus have not been pretty – and they’ve come at a real economic cost to many households and businesses – but they appear to have been successful,” Mr Daley explained in a blog post on the Grattan Institute’s website.

However, countries such as Italy and the US have been less successful due to more lenient restrictions initially.

Italy has since introduced an unprecedented lockdown with nearly all shops closed, but the spread of the virus, particularly in the country’s north with more than 10,000 cases, seems tough measures may have come too late.

On Wednesday (local time), Denmark enforced the closure of all schools, universities and some public-sector workplaces amid a surge in cases, despite not having any confirmed deaths. The measures are proactive and seen by Mr Daley as aligning with the responses from Singapore and Hong Kong who have managed to control their outbreak.

Dozens of people line up in Melbourne waiting to be tested for COVID-19. Source: AAP

“Australia would need to act as soon as possible to ensure we join [those countries],” he said.

Scott Morrison enforced a ban on travellers arriving from Italy on Wednesday, with the nation joining China, South Korea and Iran on a list of countries identified by the government as too high-risk to allow non-Australian flight passengers into the country.

Further restrictions imminent in Australia

Australia has 139 confirmed cases on Thursday, with 77 of those occurring in NSW. Victoria has 22 confirmed cases while Queensland has 20.

There has been three confirmed deaths so far.

The rising cases in Sydney have forced the closure of several schools, with further restrictive measures anticipated.

Leading law firm King & Wood Mallesons made the decision to close its Sydney office on Thursday after a staff member informed the company they may have contracted the virus on an holiday abroad.

The office, which consists of six floors of the Governor Phillip Tower in the CBD, is home to 600 employees made up of lawyers and support staff, the Financial Review reported.

"The health and safety of our people and the community is our first priority and as a precautionary measure, KWM Australia has directed all our people in Sydney to work remotely until further notice,” Chief executive partner Berkeley Cox said in a statement.

Passengers arriving at Perth airport. Source: Getty

Coronavirus declared a pandemic

The World Health Organisation announced a global pandemic on Thursday (AEDT) and warned more infections and deaths are inevitable without urgent, aggressive action.

That could mean forcing the nation's primary and high school students to extend their Easter school holidays, federal Education Minister Dan Tehan warned on Thursday.

He says medical advice will guide the decision and the government won't be rushed even though a last-minute call could leave working parents in a bind.

"It might be that school holidays need to be prolonged," he told ABC television on Thursday.

"We'll listen to that medical advice and we'll act on it. But the most important thing is we've put contingencies in place to be able to deal with it."

NSW’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Kerry Chant has warned 1.5 million people in the state could contract the virus.

As more confirmed cases emerged overnight, the federal government has outlined its plan to stave off a recession.

The stimulus package is expected to top $15 billion and will deliver tax relief for businesses alongside cash payments of $25,000 to help them weather the economic storm and keep their workers in jobs.

With AAP

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com.

You can also follow us on FacebookInstagram and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.