Coronavirus City
Coronavirus City

Thousands fly in despite travel bans

THOUSANDS of international students are entering Australia via third countries amid the rapidly spreading Coronavirus, casting a shadow of doubt over the effectiveness of travel bans.

It follows revelations that a 20-year-old University of Queensland student from China contracted Coronavirus after self-quarantining in Dubai, a method used by tertiary students to bypass travel bans.

The University of Queensland student flew into Brisbane on February 23 and fell ill two days later after spending 14 days in Dubai.

He is in quarantine in the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, where his condition is listed as stable, after tests confirmed he had COVID-19.

His housemate, who is well but also in hospital in isolation, was medically assessed yesterday and tested for the virus as a precaution. His test results were pending last night.

Queensland's latest coronavirus case had been sick for almost a week before going to the Mater Hospital on Monday, where he tested positive for COVID-19 and was transferred by ambulance to the RBWH.

A woman wears a mask in Brisbane’s CBD on Tuesday. Picture: David Clark/AAP
A woman wears a mask in Brisbane’s CBD on Tuesday. Picture: David Clark/AAP

Queensland Health was last night still trying to piece together the student's movements to trace people the man may have had contact with since he left Dubai.

The main person he is believed to have been in contact with is his flatmate, a fellow student, who lived with him in the Brisbane western suburb of Toowong.

A University of Queensland spokeswoman said the infected student was not believed to have visited any UQ campuses since arriving in Australia.

"We understand the student complied with the Federal Government's travel requirements," she said.

Federal Government data reveals that about 14,900 Chinese students have arrived in Australia from February 15 to March 2 via a third country.

Centre for Independent Studies adjunct fellow Salvatore Babones said it was "grossly immoral" that universities were encouraging students to travel via third countries.

"We should discourage all student travel, we should discourage the third country route," he said.

"What happens if one of these students becomes symptomatic while transiting a third country while in Thailand or Malaysia, or a country where he or she has no friends, family, perhaps not even health insurance, doesn't speak the language."

But Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson denied that any university had encouraged students to 'bypass the travel ban'.

"The Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly advised universities at the end of February that Chinese students travelling to Australia from a third country, in which they spent more than 14 days, could return to commence their studies," she said.

"Universities are offering a range of support for students who have had their studies disrupted by the virus."

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said the 14-day isolation period was consistent with what was known to be the upper limit of the incubation period.

"The Government has never encouraged students from mainland China to see out a 14-day period in a third country, as they could be impacted by future travel restrictions put in place by those countries. However, there is nothing within Australia's current travel restrictions to stop them doing so," he said.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young says regular hand washing is one of the best weapons people can employ against the virus. Picture: Dan Peled/AAP
Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young says regular hand washing is one of the best weapons people can employ against the virus. Picture: Dan Peled/AAP

"Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, wrote to universities outlining the low risk posed by students who have travelled to other countries from mainland China for a 14-day exclusion period and who have had no recent contact with people with COVID-19."

The Chinese student is Queensland's 10th known case of the disease, including three passengers off the Diamond Princess cruise ship who were diagnosed in Darwin before flying back to Queensland.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said all other cases of coronavirus in Queensland, except a 63-year-old woman who returned from Iran last week, have recovered and been discharged from hospital.

The woman is in isolation in the Gold Coast University Hospital, where she is listed as stable.

Dr Young said Queensland Health was working to keep people safe from the virus, but the best weapon people could take themselves was regular hand washing.

"Washing your hands is the gold standard of health advice as far as coronavirus goes," she said.

"Washing your hands properly and often means that you can help prevent viruses from entering your body."

Dr Young said anyone who had been overseas in the past 14 days should seek immediate medical assessment if they fell ill.

She said they should call ahead to the general practitioner surgery or hospital emergency department to let them know a travel history and symptoms.

For more advice, call 13 HEALTH.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), which is made up of the state and federal chief medical officers, is meeting on a daily basis.

It is understood they will be assessing the situation and take any recent developments into consideration.