By Colin Packham and Renju Jose
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia will use a little-known biosecurity law to restrict the movements of people suspected of having the coronavirus, its attorney-general said on Tuesday.
Australia on Monday confirmed the first community transmission of coronavirus after a doctor contracted it. State health officials have said the unidentified doctor has not traveled overseas in months and had not treated any of the other confirmed cases.
Amid fears of a widespread outbreak, Attorney-General Christian Porter said the government 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, where the virus originated.
China is Australia’s largest trading partner and the move has prevented thousands of students and tourists from entering Australia.
Some Chinese students have traveled to a third country for two weeks, the incubation period for the coronavirus, which satisfies Australia’s quarantine restrictions.
However, authorities confirmed on Tuesday that one such student, a 20-year old Chinese man, has been diagnosed with coronavirus. The unidentified man spent two weeks in Dubai before traveling to Australia.
Australia now has 38 cases of coronavirus after New South Wales confirmed four more.
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 including canned foods and toilet paper in case of a pandemic or restrictions on movement.
Morrison said he has spoken with Australia’s two largest retailers, Coles <COL.AX> and Woolworths <WOW.AX>.
“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.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry & Kim Coghill)