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Australia urges against gatherings of more than 500 people to contain coronavirus

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday urged people not gather in groups of more than 500 as health officials warned millions of residents will contract coronavirus within months.

[SYDNEY] Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday urged people not gather in groups of more than 500 as health officials warned millions of residents will contract coronavirus within months.

Australia has recorded 156 infections and three deaths from the flu-like disease but authorities expect this to increase rapidly in the coming weeks with the arrival of the southern hemisphere winter.

Desperate to contain the virus spread, Mr Morrison said his government will from Monday advise against non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people, though this does not include schools, airports or public transport.

Speaking to reporters in Sydney, Mr Morrison also said Australians should also reconsider their need for any overseas travel.

The virus has so far infected almost 135,000 and killed more than 4,900 worldwide.

The ban was imposed on the advice of senior health officials who urged Australia follow the lead of other countries with more severe outbreaks and ban mass gatherings.

The advice helped prompt the cancellation of the Australian Formula One Grand Prix and an order for a cricket series between Australia and New Zealand to be played behind closed doors.

Health officials warned millions of Australians will contract the coronavirus within the next six months.

"We're anticipating 20 per cent of the population in the first wave to be affected," Kerry Chant, the chief medical officer for the New South Wales (NSW) state government.

Home to more than 7 million people, NSW is Australia's most populous state, and Mr Chant said models suggest 5 per cent of the state's population - some 350,000 people - will need hospital treatment as a result of coronavirus.

REUTERS