Questions Without Notice: Coronavirus

11 February 2020

Senator Patrick: My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health, Senator Cash, and concerns biosecurity measures directed against the 2019 coronavirus, which has now claimed over 1,000 lives. Can the minister advise how many people arriving in Australia from China since 1 February have been the subject of biosecurity screening and advised to implement self-isolation at home? How is the government able to confirm that incoming travellers are following self-isolation protocols? Are travellers arriving from China under any legal obligation to comply with self-isolation guidance?

Senator Cash (Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business): I thank Senator Patrick for the question and for some prior notice. The details I have been unable to get I will seek to have provided to you on notice. In terms of the latest data, as at midday today there are approximately 42,723 confirmed cases, and 1,013 deaths have been reported globally. Of the 1,013 confirmed deaths, 1,011 have been from mainland China. Of the confirmed cases reported globally, the fatality rate is approximately two per cent.

The Morrison government is doing everything in its power to protect Australians from the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. We've implemented enhanced border measures at international ports, including a direction to airlines and ships that enter Australia. Foreign nationals who have been in mainland China since 1 February, inclusive, will not be allowed to enter Australia. As a result, the overall total of arrivals from mainland China since 1 February is approximately 28,500. I'm advised that this represents a very substantial decrease in numbers arriving from mainland China. I'm also advised that this has not resulted in any significant increase through key transit points, such as Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, indicating that the restrictions are proving effective. All arrivals undertake appropriate screening and are provided with information on the virus and on what to do if symptoms present. These border measures are effective. Since 1 February, 145 China-to-Australia flights have been cancelled; 30 arriving passengers have had their visas cancelled, of which 19 visas have been reissued, resulting in a total of 11 visa cancellations; 234 passengers were refused permission to board their flight to Australia; and 84 passengers in Australia have been refused permission to board their departing vessel. I will take on notice any further details for you.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Patrick, a supplementary question?

Senator Patrick: Have any biosecurity control orders been imposed in relation to confirmed or suspected cases of coronavirus in Australia? If so, how many? In what general circumstances would the government consider the imposition of human biosecurity control orders to be appropriate?

Senator Cash (Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business): I am advised that on 21 January 2020 'human coronavirus with pandemic potential' was listed as a listed human disease under the Biosecurity Act 2015, enabling the use of enhanced border measures. All states and territories have powers to issue orders under public health legislation, which include provision for detaining persons and enforcement of those orders in relation to notifiable conditions. Authorised public health officers may issue directions to an individual, but, generally, chief health officers must authorise orders for detention. All states and territories have emergency powers, which provide extensive authority to control a public health emergency, including the power to determine individuals. In such cases, the emergency direction must be authorised by the chief health officer or in some cases the minister. However, once declared, authorised emergency officers may have delegated powers and the agency to detain individuals. The Commonwealth can issue directions during a human biosecurity emergency under the Biosecurity Act. Again, further information that I can get you— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Patrick, a final supplementary question?

Senator Patrick: Will the government undertake to promptly publish general details, being the numbers and broad locations, of any human biosecurity control orders imposed in relation to the coronavirus? Will the government undertake to provide a weekly update to the chamber on its measures in relation to the coronavirus?

Senator Cash (Minister for Employment, Skills, Small and Family Business): I believe that Minister Hunt has already done his first press conference for the day in relation to this issue, and we are obviously providing regular updates both to the parliament—the House of Representatives and the Senate—and to the Australian people. Information is being shared through the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and other relevant forums. Importantly, the national incident room is working with all states and territories to facilitate contact tracing of any individuals identified as being at risk of exposure to the virus on incoming flights. This includes contacting individuals in close contact with any confirmed cases and providing other passengers with advice on what to do if they begin feeling unwell. We are meeting all requests of state and territory governments as promptly as we can. As you would understand, this is an evolving situation, and we will continue to follow the expert medical advice.

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