Date published: 
14 February 2020
Type: 
News
Intended audience: 
General public

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) today considered the current national and international epidemiology and the advice from the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA).

It noted that, at present, containment of COVID-19 has been maintained with only 15 cases diagnosed in Australia and no evidence of local transmission (other than within a small tour group with links to Wuhan) and no confirmed cases from Australian citizens and residents who have returned to Australia since the introduction of the border measures on 1 February 2020.

It noted that:

  • The situation in mainland China has not improved over the last two weeks. There is continued and concerning growth in cases and mortality in Hubei province, which continues to be locked down by the Chinese authorities.
  • There has been further, but slower, growth in other regions of mainland China. The epidemiology is very uneven across China with three provinces (in addition to Hubei province) now having more than 1,000 cases with sustained community transmission evident in many provinces.
  • There has been some growth in cases in Hong Kong and in a number of countries including Thailand, Singapore and Japan (even after accounting for the cruise ship outbreak). The risk of importation from these places is substantially lower than would be from mainland China at the present time.
  • The travel restrictions (and other factors) have led to an approximately 70% reduction in entry to Australia of people who have been in mainland China and this has contributed to a much more manageable program of  self-isolation of recent arrivals.
  • The travel restrictions have had an impact on many sectors including education, tourism and trade, and will continue to be reviewed by AHPPC for proportionality and effectiveness.
  • There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the 546 persons returned on the assisted departure flights from Wuhan or the over 29,000 people (mostly Australian citizens and permanent residents) who have returned from mainland China since 1 February under existing enhanced border measures.

AHPPC recommends to government that:

  • the current Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade travel advice should not be altered
  • a province-by-province relaxation of travel restrictions from mainland China is not supported given evidence of community transmission and the free movement between provinces (excluding Hubei) at this time
  • a relaxation of the travel restrictions would present an unacceptable public health risk at this time
  • the restriction on entry to persons (other than citizens, permanent residents and their families) should be maintained with a review in seven days’ time unless there is a material change in the global situation
  • border measures to screen flights and vessels from mainland China and for people who have come from or transited through mainland China in the past 14 days should continue as should the policy of requiring isolation for 14 days after leaving mainland China.

Potential limited exemptions to travel restrictions

AHPPC considered the issue of possible exemptions in exceptional circumstances to the travel restrictions for some non-citizens/non-permanent residents returning to Australia from China (other than from Hubei province).  AHPPC agreed that, should exemptions be pursued, they should:

  • be considered on a case-by-case basis by the Commissioner of the Australian Border Force only in the most exceptional circumstances
  • be extremely small in number to minimise the public health risk
  • only be provided to individuals who are able to fully comply with self-isolation requirements in effect at the time
  • receive the support of the Chief Health Officer (or equivalent) in the individual jurisdiction.