A top government official from Australia said that he tested positive for the novel coronavirus, just days after he returned from a meeting with Ivanka Trump and a Justice Department event in Washington that was attended by U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr and acting U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.
Peter Dutton, Australia’s home affairs minister, said Friday that he woke up with a fever and sore throat and would be checking into a hospital.
On March 5, Dutton had visited Justice Department headquarters for a press conference about an initiative to fight online sexual exploitation of children. Dutton was one of six government officials who spoke at the presser, including Barr and Wolf.
Together with their counterparts from England, New Zealand, and Canada, the officials stood at the podium for about 45 minutes to discuss the initiative. Given the number of countries involved in the announcement, there were scores of people who attended the gathering.
The group also met that day with White House officials, and Dutton was photographed standing directly next to the president’s daughter and a few feet away from Barr.
Spokespeople for the White House and Barr did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Kellyanne Conway, a White House counselor also present at the meeting, confirmed she met with Dutton but said she had not been tested for the virus.
Yesterday 🇦🇺 Home Affairs @PeterDutton_MP joins @IvankaTrump, Attorney General Barr & our five eyes partners 🇺🇸🇬🇧🇨🇦🇳🇿 to fight online child exploitation. We heard from 9 brave survivors & announced principles that technology companies should implement to protect children online pic.twitter.com/3ifeJnGJPI
— Australia in the US 🇦🇺🇺🇸 (@AusintheUS) March 6, 2020
The news of his diagnosis came as Australian officials urged people not to interrupt their “daily normal routines” over the pandemic, even as they announced some sweeping efforts to contain it.
At a news conference earlier on Friday, officials banned gatherings of 500 or more people and urged Australians to reconsider nonessential international travel.
“It is precautionary,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. “It is getting ahead of this to ensure that we can minimize the impact on your health.”
In a televised national address late Thursday, he touted measures like early travel restrictions, ramped-up screenings and an economic stimulus package.
The virus’s wide spread across many countries in Europe and Asia has yet to fully replicate itself in Australia, which has more than 120 cases and at least three fatalities.
But the government response has not been without controversy. Australia quarantined citizens evacuated from Wuhan, China, at an offshore immigration detention center best known for holding asylum seekers.
As major events including the country’s Grand Prix were canceled Friday, officials announced a ban on gatherings of 500 people or more. The ban was not meant to keep people from going to school or work or taking public transit, Morrison said.
Yet there appeared to be one more exception: Morrison also acknowledged his plans to watch his favorite rugby team, the Cronulla Sharks, play this weekend.
“I am going on Saturday,” he said, “because it might be the last chance for a while.”