Coronavirus fears spark calls for flight ban

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There are growing calls for Australia to ban flights coming from China as concern intensifies over the fast-spreading coronavirus.

The deadly virus, which was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation overnight, has claimed more than 170 lives and infected more than 8000 people worldwide.

There have been nine confirmed cases in Australia, including two people who were on a flight from Melbourne to the Gold Coast with 170 others after having recently been on a group tour in virus epicentre Wuhan.

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Flights continue to operate between mainland China and Australian cities across several airlines, including Qantas, despite many of the world’s major airlines suspending flights to the Chinese mainland.

There are now growing calls for Australia to ban planes from China to stop the spread of the killer virus.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said this morning the Federal Government had no plans to ban flights from China.

“We are not taking flights from Wuhan. And if we need to take further steps beyond that we will,” he told Today.

He said Australia was in a different position to Hong Kong, which has taken the extraordinary step of restricting some of its border crossings with mainland China to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“(They) share a land border and have significant people transfers every day, so they’re in a very different situation than an island nation like ours,” Mr Dutton said.

“I think we have looked at all of those steps. We have contingencies ready to go if we make additional decisions about what we should do to provide further protections, and that’s what we have done so far and what we will keep doing.

“We have to rely on the medical advice. It’s just not what is happening internationally, but we are recognised as one of the most advanced countries in the world in terms of our preparedness to respond to a crisis like this.”

Qantas said it had no plans to change its flight routes into and out of mainland China.

Virgin Australia, which does not fly to mainland China but has daily flights between Sydney and Melbourne and Hong Kong, said it was closely following advice from Australian medical authorities and the World Health Organisation about precautions to minimise risks from the virus, AAP reported.

British Airways has suspended all flights to mainland China, along with American Airlines, United Airlines, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines and Swiss, which have done the same.

Other airlines either cancelling or scaling back services include Air Canada, Air Seoul, Air India, Asiana Airlines, Finnair, IndiGo, Jetset Asia and Lion Air.

Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific said it would keep flying to mainland China but slash capacity by half.

The airline said it had also stopped handing out hot towels, blankets and magazines on flights to and from mainland China until further notice.

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