SYDNEY (Reuters) – There is every sign the world is about to be gripped by a pandemic of coronavirus, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned on Thursday, as Canberra kicked off emergency measures to restrain the spread of the disease.
Coronavius has infected about 80,000 people worldwide and killed more than 2,700, the vast majority in China.
While the spread has slowed within China, Morrison said the escalation across Europe, Asia and the Americas makes the chance of a pandemic more likely.
“The advice we have received today is…there is every indication that the world will soon enter a pandemic phase of the coronavirus,” Morrison told a news conference in the capital Canberra.
“And as a result we have agreed today and initiated the…coronavirus emergency response plan,” he added.
Morrison is one of the world’s first leaders to acknowledge the threat of the virus spreading beyond global containment efforts.
U.S. President Donald Trump earlier on Thursday said the risk was “very low” as he put Vice President Mike Pence in charge of Washington’s response.
Australia has 23 cases of coronavirus, although there has been no community transmission of the virus.
Minister for Health Greg Hunt said the activation of Australia’s emergency plan would see the federal government work with local states to ensure hospitals are ready for a surge in patients.
Morrison said the country’s national security committee agreed extend a travel ban on foreigners arriving from mainland China by at least another week.
Morrison said, however, there was as yet no need to stop mass gatherings, such as football games.
Reporting by Colin Packham and Swati Pandey; Editing by Lincoln Feast.