Prime Minister Scott Morrison attends a meeting. File photo
Australia and New Zealand moved to seal off their borders Thursday, announcing unprecedented bans on entry for non-residents in the hope of stemming the rise of COVID-19 infections.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the ban on anyone who is not a citizen or permanent resident coming to Australia "will be in place from 9pm tomorrow evening".
His New Zealand counterpart Jacinda Ardern, who acknowledged, announced a similar measure: "I recognise how extraordinary this is. In no time in New Zealand's history has a power like this been used."
Australia and New Zealand have announced a slew of restrictions to tackle the pandemic, but have so far stopped short of closing schools or instituting wider-ranging lockdowns.
Policymakers hope the bans will slow the rate of infection enough to avoid more draconian measures that would cripple the two economies and transform life for months to come.
Australia currently has 642 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with the total doubling roughly every three days. New Zealand has 28 cases.
Morrison said around 80 percent of Australia's coronavirus cases came from "someone who has contracted the virus overseas or someone who has had direct contact with someone who has returned from overseas".
A recent opinion poll showed 69 percent of Australians back closing the border.
Ardern said the measures would also ban visa holders.
"Today's decision stops any tourist, or temporary visa holder such as students or temporary workers, from coming to and entering into New Zealand."
The rate of new coronavirus cases has abated significantly in both countries without straining the capacity of their health systems. New Zealand has enforced a wide-ranging lockdown and Australia is also tightly restricting many activities.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the extreme measures were needed to prevent the rapid spread of the virus. The country has just six confirmed cases and has had no deaths, but Ardern said that number inevitably would rise.
Following an agreement between the governments of Uruguay and Australia, about 110 passengers began disembarking from the Greg Mortimer before they were due to be taken along a "sanitary corridor" to Montevideo's international airport, where they will take a medically equipped charter flight to Melbourne.
The group were travelling through Badakshan province to assist security forces in the area, officials said. A local commander was among the fatalities, provincial governor's spokesman Sanaullah Rohani told the media.
The lockdown is now largely being enforced in high-risk areas while authorities have partially restored train services and domestic flights and allowed shops and manufacturing to reopen.
Sharjah Police once again has come to the rescue of residents who were stranded on a highway when their vehicle had a flat tyre.
In Victoria in Australia's southeast, which is still battling outbreaks of the new coronavirus and where social distancing rules allow for gatherings of no more than 20 people, health authorities were urging people not to attend the rallies.