Ongoing fears about the COVID-19 coronavirus have led the Federal Government to extend its ban on travellers from mainland China to Australia for at least another week.
So what does it mean for the thousands of students stuck overseas and the businesses struggling to cope?
How long will the ban be in place?
The travel ban prevents anyone other than Australian citizens or permanent residents and their immediate families from travelling to Australia from China.
The restrictions were originally put in place for a fortnight and were due to expire this Saturday, February 15.
However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced it will be extended for another seven days, until at least February 22, and then reviewed weekly.
People who are allowed to return to Australia are still being asked to isolate themselves for 14 days from when they depart China.
What does it mean for students?
Universities Australia CEO Catriona Jackson insists “every option possible” is being made available to the estimated 100,000 international students who cannot get to Australia for their studies.
“People can study online for a period before they can get here, they can delay their start of study, they can defer with no financial penalty,” she said.
“All sorts of options are on the table and they vary between universities.”
With most courses expected to begin within weeks, and no definite end date for the travel restrictions, she urged students to consider their options now.
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan also revealed the Government’s national security committee has decided to resume issuing student visas in anticipation of the ban eventually being lifted.
“At the moment, the visas were being processed but they weren’t being issued,” he said.
“What this clarification means is that students will not only have their visas processed, they will have them issued. So when the travel ban is lifted, and it hasn’t been lifted at the moment, students will be in a position to immediately begin preparing to come to Australia and resume their studies.
“What it will mean is there’s one less activity they need to undertake in preparing to come back to Australia to study.
“So for some students it could save them hours, for some it might be days in having to travel. So this is once again our signal from Australia saying we want to see all those international students from China return once the travel advisory is lifted.”
Is there a way around the travel ban?
Some international students are transiting to third countries to wait out their two-week quarantine period before flying to Australia.
It’s unclear how many people have taken up that option.
Mr Tehan said the third-country route was “perfectly within the guidelines”, however Catriona Jackson warned it could be risky.
“It’s not an option that we would actively advise because things are moving and changing very rapidly,” she said.
“The last thing you’d want is a student to move from China to another country and attempt to get back in here and then have the borders on that country close.”
What about the tourism operators?
The Australian Tourism Industry Council believes the financial impact of the coronavirus will be worse than that caused by the summer’s devastating bushfires.
It wants the Federal Government to match a $76 million package announced in response to the fires, with money going towards areas like international marketing and support for small businesses.
“[China] is our most critical tourism export market, 1.5 million annual visitors a year out of that particular part of the world and spending over $12 billion,” executive director Simon Westaway said.
“Coronavirus really is digging into the heart of the tourism industry.”
Mr Morrison acknowledged the “double blow” being faced by the sector and said the government was “looking at all options” to mitigate the impact but did not specify what they might be.
What’s the state of the coronavirus in Australia?
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases here remains at 15, with five people having recovered.
Health Minister Greg Hunt says there are no confirmed cases at either Christmas Island or Howard Springs, where Australians evacuated from Wuhan are being housed.
More on the coronavirus outbreak:
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- Student evicted from Perth house due to landlord’s fears of coronavirus outbreak
- The WHO has declared a global emergency for just the sixth time. Here’s what that means
- Australian lab recreates coronavirus, helping vaccine push
- What exactly is coronavirus, and should you be concerned?
Topics: diseases-and-disorders, health, respiratory-diseases, infectious-diseases-other, government-and-politics, federal-government, world-politics, foreign-affairs, community-and-society, australia, china
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