Prime Minister Scott Morrison has consulted with health experts on a US-style travel ban against continental Europe, in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.
However, Health Minister Greg Hunt played down a potential restriction, saying, “I am not in any way pre-empting that. They [European countries] have been frank and fearless.”
The news follows US President Donald Trump implemented restricting travellers from the 26-nation Schengen area (which excludes the UK and Ireland) from entering the US for the next 30 days.
Australia currently has a ban in place against China, Iran, South Korea and Italy, which has been extended for at least another week.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 12, 2020
An anonymous source from within DFAT told The Sydney Morning Herald that “further travel bans would be under consideration for any country that had a surge in the number of cases”.
Minister Hunt said that the request for consultation was made to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee out of “an abundance of caution”.
Italy now has the highest national COVID-19 count outside of mainland China. As of Wednesday, a ban against all non-resident travellers entering Australia was put into place.
The porous nature of borders within the Schengen zone, however, makes it particularly difficult to check if travellers leaving the area have been to Italy.
Additional security measures at Australian airports already require all travellers from Europe to self-declare at check-in if they have been to Italy during the travel ban.
Speaking on Thursday, President Trump spoke confidently of the ban’s potential to act as a brake on the spread of the virus.
“This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history,” he said.
“I’m confident that by continuing to take these tough measures we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens and we will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus.”