By Colin Packham
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will close schools and cancel sporting events in the event of an uncontained coronavirus outbreak, Minister for Health Greg Hunt said on Wednesday, as the government accelerates plans to cope with a possible pandemic.
Believed to have originated from wildlife in China’s Wuhan city late last year, the flu-like disease has infected 80,000 people and killed nearly 3,000 in China.
It has jumped to about 30 countries and territories, with some three dozen deaths outside China, according to a Reuters tally.
Australia has had 23 cases of the coronavirus but has managed to head off widespread transmission.
That may change and Hunt met top state and territory officials on Tuesday to discuss plans if it does.
“If you had an outbreak in a particular city or state … you might close the schools or change the configuration of the hospitals to deal with that,” Hunt told reporters in Canberra. “If it’s in several cities or states, you do it according to the local needs at the time.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday warned Americans to prepare for the spread of coronavirus in the United States, signaling a change in tone for the Atlanta-based U.S. health agency.
Preparations to cope with the virus come as sports-mad Australia is looking forward to the start of the National Rugby League and the Australian Football League seasons.
Hunt said some games could be canceled, though that would be a “last resort”.
Australia has since Feb. 1 barred entry to anyone arriving directly from mainland China.
Last week, the government evacuated 170 citizens from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which held been held in quarantine in a Japanese port with the virus running rife on board, and put them in quarantine for 14 days in northern Australia.
Hunt said an eighth person evacuated from the ship had tested positive for the coronavirus.
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