March 15, 2020 / 12:29 AM / 21 days ago

Australia's' 'war cabinet' set to meet as COVID-19 cases surpass 250

SYDNEY, March 15 (Reuters) - Australia’s new national cabinet is set to meet Sunday as the country’s cases of coronavirus topped 250 and the government faced questions about the possible closure of schools and tighter border controls.

The government has already advised against non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people from Monday, though this does not include schools, airports or public transport.

The national cabinet which includes federal, state and territory leaders, dubbed a “war cabinet” by the media, will hold its first meeting via teleconference on Sunday to discuss the response to the spread of the virus.

The meeting is expected to canvas whether schools should be closed and whether border controls should be further tightened to contain COVID-19, a deadly respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus that has so far infected 156,000 people and killed more than 5,800 globally.

“We are rightly, keeping all options on the table, whether it’s in relation to travel or whether it’s in relation to schools. The schools question will be very much guided by the medical advice,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told ABC television.

“One of the things that they have talked about, is not moving too early on something like that.”

Visitors who have been in high-risk nations are already banned from entering Australia, while New Zealand on Saturday said it would require incoming travellers, including its own citizens, to self-isolate for two weeks..

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Sunday the government’s approach was designed to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus infections to avoid the country’s healthcare system from being overwhelmed.

“We were quick to put in place travel restrictions. Our strategy has been around containment, about flattening out that curve and ensuring that our health system gets the resources we need,” he told Sky news.

The national cabinet meeting comes as the government launches a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign focused on good hygiene, and the formation of a Coronavirus Business Liaison Unit to address the economic fallout. (Reporting by Kate Lamb and John Mair Editing by Alistair Bell)

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