SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday (Mar 18) strongly discouraged the country’s residents against all overseas travel as he declared a human biosecurity emergency and banned all non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.

The prime minister announced at a press conference what he called an “indefinite ban” on foreign travel.

“This is a once-in-100-year type event,” Morrison said of the pandemic. “We haven’t seen this sort of thing in Australia since the end of the first World War.”

“We are going to keep Australia running, we are going to keep Australia functioning, (but) it won’t look like it normally does,” he said, warning that the measures being taken would last at least six months.

“The travel advice to every Australian is ‘Do not travel abroad’. Do not go overseas,” he said.

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Morrison said the advice was that schools should remain open as the country tries to control the spread of the virus that has affected about 425 people in Australia.

He rejected calls for the government to order schools to close, as has been done in other countries, saying the impact on society and the economy from such a closure would be “severe”.

“Whatever we do we have to do for at least six months,” he said, adding that among other consequences a long school closure would remove 30 per cent of workers from the health industry as parents remained home with their kids.

Morrison also flagged further economic stimulus measures.

The ban on overseas travel came as Australia’s two main airlines, Qantas and Virgin Australia, slashed international flights 90 per cent and 100 per cent respectively.

Acknowledging it was “the first time that has ever happened in Australia’s history,” he said the ban was needed to stop travellers from bringing more coronavirus cases into the country.

The ban on indoor gatherings of more than 100 people applies to “non-essential” gatherings and excluded public transportation, shopping sites and school.

The government had already banned outdoor events of more than 500 people, dealing a severe blow to spectator sports in the sports-mad nation.

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