Australian authorities considering banning gatherings, closing schools - report

Australian health authorities may be considering banning large gatherings and other "social distancing" measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, according to a report from ABC.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPCC) - which comprises the Chief Health Officers from across the country - will reportedly meet on Tuesday to consider if new protection measures need to be enforced.

There have been 31 cases of the deadly virus confirmed in Australia, with one death. On Monday, it was announced that authorities had detected two cases of community transmission - meaning among people who hadn't been overseas to at-risk countries.

According to ABC sources, Australians "should anticipate changes, including more social distancing measures". 

Among the measures laid out in the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVD-19), is the possibility of school and workplace closures, as well as the cancellation of mass gatherings. That could mean entertainment and sporting events being stopped. 

The Guardian is also reporting that the cancellation of gatherings is on the AHPCC's agenda to consider.

The two individuals who contracted the virus without leaving the country are both from Sydney. It's unknown how one of them, a 53-year-old healthcare worker, became infected, while the other, a 41-year-old woman, may have contracted the illness from her brother who had just returned from Iran. 

Health authorities in New South Wales (NSW) are now contacting staff or patients that came in contact with the healthcare worker. Both infected individuals are now in isolation.

Following news of the human-to-human transmission, the NSW Health Minister called on people to no longer shake hands, but instead pat each other on the back. 

"At a time when we have a virus that appears to be reasonably active in its endeavours to get into our community … it will be sensible not to be handshaking," he said.

"I'm not going to say don't kiss, but certainly you could be exercising a degree of care and caution with whom you choose to kiss.

"Other than that, I think we can live an entirely normal life here."