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Australia, New Zealand to close borders to non-residents

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Australia's travel ban on non-residents and non-citizens will be in place from 9pm local time on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

[CANBERRA] Australia and New Zealand are both closing their borders to non-residents as they step up their response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Australia's travel ban on non-residents and non-citizens will be in place from 9pm local time on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Thursday. New Zealand's measure comes into force at midnight tonight, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a press conference in Wellington.

"The overwhelming proportion of cases in Australia have been imported," Mr Morrison said in outlining the reasons for the decision. While both nations had already imposed strict quarantine measures, with all international arrivals ordered to self-isolate for 14 days, the Australian leader said "we believe it is essential to take a further step".

Governments around the world are dramatically escalating their efforts to halt the spread of the deadly virus, with the US and Canada agreeing to close their shared border to non-essential travel. The measures taken by Australia and New Zealand are some of the most extreme, and follow a similar announcement by Taiwan on Wednesday, while Jordan has decreed that "no passengers" are allowed to enter the country.

Mr Morrison's government and the central bank are working in tandem to buttress the economy, which is at risk of slipping into its first recession in almost 30 years. The Reserve Bank of Australia on Thursday cut interest rates to a record-low 0.25 per cent and will target three-year government bond yields. The government, which last week announced a A$17.6 billion (S$14.71 billion) fiscal stimulus plan, is working on a second support package.

Australia had 565 confirmed cases of coronavirus as at 6.30am Sydney time on Thursday, according to official government statistics, with 111 new cases recorded in 24 hours. At least six people have died from the disease. New Zealand currently has 28 confirmed cases, all of whom contracted the virus abroad, and no deaths.

The majority of New Zealand's cases are residents, suggesting that closing the border to foreigners may not prove effective. An estimated 100,000 to 110,000 residents are currently travelling overseas, Statistics New Zealand said earlier on Thursday, an indication of how many may be returning in coming weeks.

"At no time in New Zealand's history has a power like this been used, and I recognise how extraordinary it is, but we have to make decisions in best interests of the health of those who live here," Ms Ardern said. "While there remains no evidence of community outbreak in New Zealand to date, there continues to be significant outbreaks in other countries, and that poses a very serious risk to the rest of the world, including to New Zealand."

The government understands that the decision will have further impacts on New Zealand's economy, she said.

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