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Australia imposes Italy travel ban as as Govt says containment "getting harder"

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Italian visitors will be banned from Australia as of Wednesday evening, as the government steps up efforts to protect the country from coronavirus.

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The ban, to start from 6pm, comes as the Morrison government announced a $2.4 billion boost to health services.

Free telehealth services and pop-up testing clinics will be set up and from Friday phone hook-ups with GPs to diagnose coronavirus symptoms can be bulk-billed.

“We’ve been working hard to stay ahead, and it’s important that we all keep our heads as well,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“Every Australian has a role to play – whether you’re in government, federal, state, local, whether you’re an employer, whether you’re an employee, wherever you happen to be.”

Italy joins bans already in place for visitors from China, Iran and South Korea.

“I think that it is important not to overstate this,” Mr Morrison said.

“Italy itself has effectively put itself into lockdown with travel now, and this largely closes that loop.”

Under the health boost, authorities will establish up to 100 “pop-up” clinics, with each expected to handle 75 patients a day.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said some pop-up clinics were already running, including at hospitals in Melbourne and South Australia.

The Australian Medical Association will help the government with locations for the rest, which will be progressively rolled out.

The government hopes the clinics will divert people with coronavirus away from hospitals.

AMA president Tony Bartone says people with symptoms should only go to a clinic if they’ve recently been overseas or had contact with someone diagnosed with the virus.

“We’re still not advocating wide-spread community testing of anyone with the sniffles. It may change over the next little while, but at this stage we’re still trying to identify cases, isolate them,” Dr Bartone told ABC radio.

The government hopes the clinics will divert people with coronavirus away from hospitals.

Extra funds will also be spent on research and a communication strategy.

Meanwhile, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg met with bank CEOs on Wednesday to discuss the impact of the virus on the economy.

Australian Banking Association chief Anna Bligh said banks were in the “best-ever shape” to face the challenge and were well capitalised, with strong balance sheets.

“Banks stand ready to assist and if anyone is in need of assistance, they shouldn’t wait to come forward,” she said.

A number of schools in NSW and Melbourne have closed because of the coronavirus, but Education Minister Dan Tehan doesn’t expect state-wide closures to happen.

Tehan said it would be more likely for schools in particular areas to close, with the government relying on expert medical advice.

“It does seem very clear now the idea of containing the virus is getting harder and harder. Although we still are using containment circles to limit the spread … but we do have to prepare for all contingencies,” he told ABC radio.

Universities are scaling back their course offerings or providing more online tuition.

Schools in NSW and Melbourne have closed because of the coronavirus, but Education Minister Dan Tehan doesn’t expect state-wide closures to happen.

Tehan said it would be more likely for schools in particular areas to close, with the government relying on expert medical advice.

“It does seem very clear now the idea of containing the virus is getting harder and harder. Although we still are using containment circles to limit the spread … but we do have to prepare for all contingencies,” he told ABC radio.

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy says there have been 100 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia, but more than half of those people had been cleared.

Hunt said it was unlikely people could be infected twice.

“I think that’s a very important message to Australians,” he added.

“So now is the moment of pressure … this is a once-in-50-year challenge that we face.”

Three Australians have died from coronavirus and states and territories are setting up specialist clinics as the federal government looks to combine information into a smartphone app.

Sydney is the worst-hit city for rates of infection.

On Tuesday, six more people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in NSW, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 61.

NSW Health said one of the new patients, a woman in her 30s, is a relative of a Sydney aged care facility resident who died from coronavirus.

Across the world there are an estimated 114,000 cases in 107 countries, with 1000 recorded deaths.

The government in coming days is expected to announce private sector involvement in providing pathology services and new advice on the testing of healthcare workers.

Meanwhile, Qantas has slashed the capacity of its international flights by almost one quarter for the next six months due to the virus’ impact, a decision that will ground 38 planes.

-AAP

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