On Monday, March 16, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declared a State of Emergency for four weeks in the state starting from 12:00 (local time) in response to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Under the State of Emergency, authorities have enforced a 14-day self isolation for all travelers entering Australia and banned non-essential mass gatherings of more than 500 people such as cultural and sporting events, as well as conferences. However, essential gatherings such as public transport, food markets, workplaces, schools, and universities will be allowed to continue. A number of cultural institutions, inlcuding the National Gallery of Victoria, the State Library, and Museums Victoria have also announced temporary closures.
The state of emergency will also give health officials the authority to detain people, search premises without a warrant, and force areas into lockdown when required. Individuals who do not comply with the directives from health officials could receive a fine of up to AUD 20,000, while corporations that do not comply could be fined up to AUD 100,000.
As of 06:00 (local time), Sunday, March 17, the Department of Health has confirmed 375 cases of COVID-19 in Australia, including five fatalities and 27 recoveries. Further international spread of the virus is to be expected in the near term.
The first case of COVID-19 was reported on December 31 and the source of the outbreak has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan (Hubei province, China). Human-to-human and patient-to-medical staff transmission of the virus have been confirmed. Many of the associated fatalities have been due to pneumonia caused by the virus.
Cases of the virus have been confirmed in numerous countries and territories worldwide. Virus-screening and quarantining measures are being implemented at airports worldwide, as well as extensive travel restrictions. On March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Pneumonia symptoms include dry cough, chest pain, fever, and labored breathing. Pneumonia can be contagious and can be transmitted from human to human. The influenza virus, or the flu, is a common cause of viral pneumonia.
Measures adopted by local authorities evolve quickly and are usually effective immediately. Depending on the evolution of the outbreak in other countries, authorities are likely to modify, at very short notice, the list of countries whose travelers are subject to border control measures or entry restrictions upon their arrival to the territory in question. It is advised to postpone nonessential travel due to the risk that travelers may be refused entry or be subject to quarantine upon their arrival or during their stay.
To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, travelers are advised to abide by the following measures:
- Frequently clean hands by applying an alcohol-based hand rub or washing with soap and water.
- When coughing and sneezing, cover mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue; if used, throw the tissue away immediately and wash hands.
- If experiencing a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, or any other symptoms suggestive of respiratory illness, including pneumonia, call emergency services before going to the doctor or hospital to prevent the potential spread of the virus.
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