Australia to use biosecurity law to restrict movements of coronavirus patients

  • March 3, 2020

Empty shelves are pictured at Coles Supermarket following reports of coronavirus in the Canberra suburb of Manuka, Australia, March 2, 2020 in this picture obtained by Reuters from social media. Adam Spence via REUTERS

SYDNEY, March 3 (Reuters) – Australia will use a little-known biosecurity law to restrict the movements of people suspected of having coronavirus, its attorney-general said on Tuesday.

Australia on Monday confirmed the first community transmission of coronavirus after a doctor contracted the virus. It is not known how the man in his 50s was infected.

Amid fears of a widespread outbreak, Attorney-General Christian Porter said Australia will expand the use of a rarely used law that would either designate some places as out of bounds or place the patient in home detention.

“Under the biosecurity act, you could have the prevention of movement from persons in and out of particular places,” Porter told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“You might have a major sporting event where people would be in very, very close proximity to each other and… it might be determined that the risk of transmission at a venue like that was too high.”

The law, enacted in 2015, has rarely been used outside Australia’s agricultural sector.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said a pandemic was likely and Australia has moved to try and prevent the virus from reaching its shores.

Since Feb. 1 Australia has stopped any foreigner from entering directly from China – its largest trading partner. The move has prevented thousands of students and tourists from entering Australia.

Some Chinese students have travelled to a third country for two weeks, the incubation period for the coronavirus, which satisfies Australia’s quarantine restrictions.

One Chinese student who spent two weeks in Dubai was on Tuesday confirmed as Australia’s 34th case of coronavirus.

Australia has had one death, a 78-year-old man who was a former passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise ship which was quarantined in Japan.

Keen to temper fears, Morrison urged Australians to remain calm as some rushed to shops to stock up on supplies in case of a pandemic or restrictions of movement.

Morrison said he has spoken with Australia’s two largest retailers, Coles and Woolworths.

“They would send the same message I am sending you today. It is important that people just go about their business and their normal processes in a calm manner,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.