Up to 150k could die as new crackdown looms


Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned Australia is in for six months of chaos as the world faces its biggest public health crisis in a generation.

The coronavirus pandemic rapidly spiralled out of control on Monday as the country recorded its biggest one-day spike in new cases to date.

Health authorities say up to 150,000 Australians could die in the worst-case scenario where 60 per cent of the population are infected.

National carrier Qantas has grounded 150 planes and slashed capacity by 90 per cent, a day after Australian shares suffered their worst fall on record while federal and state governments scrambled to devise financial stimulus measures.

ANZAC Day services have been cancelled for the first time in 100 years, joining a growing number of major events falling victim to drastic "social distancing" measures.

It's increasingly likely there will be a ban on gatherings of more than 100 people - other countries have instituted bans on gatherings of as few as five.

There are now 411 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across Australia - 171 in NSW, 94 in Victoria, 78 in Queensland, 30 in South Australia, 28 in Western Australia, seven in Tasmania, two in the Australian Capital Territory and one in the Northern Territory.

Five people have died - one in WA, three in NSW and one in Queensland.


Tasmania declares emergency

Tasmania has declared a public health emergency amid the coronavirus pandemic, while the state's popular Museum of New and Old Art will shut indefinitely.

The declaration, announced on Tuesday, will give the state's director of public health power to order people to quarantine, isolate or evacuate an area.

The powers will initially be used to ban mass gatherings and ensure people arriving from overseas self-isolate for two weeks.

"It is the next step in the proportionate and scalable response we're taking," Premier Peter Gutwein told reporters.

Tasmania has recorded seven coronavirus cases, but none have been transmitted locally.

"This is not a reaction to an imminent threat … (but) a gradual and steady increase in the proportional way that we're dealing with this," Mr Gutwein said.

The state government will on Tuesday reveal an economic stimulus package and is requiring all people entering the island to fill out an 'arrival card' with their details.

Meanwhile, Hobart's MONA will shut its doors from Wednesday to ensure the safety of staff, visitors, contractors and the wider community.

Owner David Walsh said he had been trying to find a way to keep the museum open but conceded there's a chance MONA could become a "major centre for contagion".

"I'm closing it, without certainty and with some loss of pride, but I'm closing it," he wrote in a statement. "I hope people care enough to visit when we reopen. I hope that people care enough to understand why we've closed."

Mr Walsh said he grappled with the decision because people need entertainment and a functioning museum might provide relief from the "drudgery" caused by the cancellation of public events.

The museum hasn't recorded a drop in visitors in recent times. It is not known when MONA will reopen, only that it will be shut for the foreseeable future.

The decision comes after Mr Walsh last week announced midwinter festival Dark Mofo would not go ahead due to financial concerns.

Tasmania on Monday joined NSW and WA in cancelling RSL-held ANZAC Day commemorations.

- Ethan James, AAP

 

Queensland now has 78

Queensland now has 78 confirmed coronavirus cases, up from 68 yesterday.

That brings us to 411 nationally.

There are 3500 people in self-quarantine across the state.

 

Coles, Aldi bring in new limits

Coles and Aldi have been forced to introduce more buying limits as desperate shoppers continue to strip shelves bare of essential items amid coronavirus fears.

Coles issued a statement to customers on Twitter stating the supermarket giant said it would be adding eggs, chilled pasta, frozen vegetables and frozen dessert to the growing list of food and household items shoppers were limited in buying - all items were now capped at two packs per customer.

"Coles has today introduced new purchase limits to improve availability for customers," the statement read.

Read more here.

 

High Court to stop hearings

The full bench of Australia's High Court won't hear cases in Canberra until August because of coronavirus.

The nation's highest court decided on Tuesday that hearings in April, May and June would not go ahead.

"The first possible time the full court will sit again in Canberra will be in August," a spokesman told AAP.

He said the court was continuing to receive advice and would reassess the court's July recess in June.

Judges will continue to hear applications for special leave to appeal, but it was noted most of those are determined on written submissions.

Where necessary, hearings will be carried out by videolink.

 

 

The court will continue to hand down judgments.

Meanwhile the Family Court and Federal Court of Australia in Sydney have been shut down after a lawyer tested positive for the coronavirus.

The lawyer was inside the Sydney registry, known as the Lionel Bowen Building, in Goulburn Street on Tuesday March 10 and Thursday March 12.

The registry has now in "an abundance of caution" closed for 24 hours from Tuesday.

"This will allow for thorough cleaning to take place and for contact to be made with any member of the community, judges and staff who may have been present in the relevant courtrooms on the 10 and 12 March," it said in a statement.

- AAP

 

More ANZAC Day cancellations

South Australia and the Northern Territory have joined three other states in cancelling public ANZAC Day services.

The RSL says the decision has not been taken lightly but is in the best interest and wellbeing of ageing veterans and the community at large.

A dawn service will still be conducted on April 25 at the war memorial in Adelaide but only for official guests with the public asked not to attend.

 

 

The traditional march and following services will not be held. However, the RSL says sub-branches across SA and the NT will be permitted to hold dawn services, but only for their members.

On Monday ANZAC Day services were cancelled in NSW, Western Australia and Tasmania. The RSL said the despite its decision ANZAC Day would be no less important this year.

"We lose a chance to pay our due respect and acknowledge the great contribution servicemen and women have made," it said. "We will always remember the dedication, commitment and sacrifice of our defence forces, past and present."

- AAP

 

Fashion Week cancelled

Australia's premier fashion event, slated for early May at Sydney's Carriageworks, has been cancelled.

Following a slew of cancellations of major events locally and all over the world, the major Australian event that showcases our fashion industry to the world has taken the same path.

"Due to the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee's mandate against holding non-essential, organised public gatherings of more than 500 people in light of global health concerns regarding COVID-19, we regret to share that Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia 2020 will not take place," said Natalie Xenita, executive director of IMG's fashion events group for the Asia-Pacific region.

"We thank our incredible designers, producers, partners and staff for their support of the Australian fashion community and look forward to celebrating our 25th anniversary in 2021."

The event also attracts a tribe on global fashion buyers, influencers, retailers and media. There will be no postponement but instead total cancellation 50 next fashion week not happening until 2021.

- Melissa Hoyer

 

'Stupid' to panic buy

One of the key issues in the coronavirus pandemic has been the fragmented and conflicting information provided by the federal, state and territory governments.

Case in point this morning - Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy was on 2GB radio with Alan Jones telling people it was "stupid" to panic buy.

"The chances of any given Australian citizen suddenly being asked to quarantine are pretty low," Professor Murphy said. "This panic buying is just stupid and I really encourage Australians to take a deep breath and just buy what you need."

He might have had a word to his colleagues in Victoria, who reignited the panic buying pandemonium by telling people they should stock up on two weeks' worth of food.

Dr Chris Moy, South Australian President of the Australian Medical Association, last week said the crisis had shown that "pandemic is not a theoretical exercise and requires practicality".

"Grappling with this has been like we're trying to cram for an important exam when we should have had the strategy and planning and research about our ability to cope done a long time before," he said.

The AMA has previously called for a national Centre for Disease Control to co-ordinate in a crisis like this.

Currently, the closest Australia has is the federal government's Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which is made up of the chief medical officers from the Commonwealth and each state and territory.

"Part of the problem is they need to get a unanimous decision," Dr Moy said.

"What we want is a national decision-maker. We needed a CDC from the start. We need consistent messaging about not going straight to your practice, where to call, signage, messages on websites, pamphlets, hotlines available."

 

Julia Gillard in isolation

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard is self-isolating after embracing Sophie Trudeau a week before she tested positive for coronavirus.

The Canadian PM's wife attended a We Day function with Ms Gillard in London earlier this month.

"Ms Gillard is in London and feeling well, but as a precaution is self-isolating and will continue to do so until the end of the recommended period," a spokeswoman for the former PM told AAP on Tuesday.

- AAP

 

Tom Hanks also released

Actor Tom Hanks has reportedly been released from a Gold Coast hospital after being quarantined with coronavirus.

His wife Rita Wilson remains in isolation after also testing positive to the virus last week.

Hanks is in Queensland filming a Baz Luhrmann biopic about Elvis Presley. Production has ceased for two weeks but he is not believed to have infected any other cast or crew.

Singer-songwriter Wilson recently performed in Brisbane and Sydney.

Nine Network entertainment editor Richard Wilkins has since also tested positive for the virus, saying he met Wilson twice in the week leading up to her diagnosis.

 

 

Hanks issued a statement last Thursday saying he and his wife went to hospital after feeling run down.

He said they would comply with all Australian health restrictions relating to the virus.

While in hospital Hanks tweeted his gratitude to the medical staff caring for them.

The post, which included a photo of two pieces of toast smothered in Vegemite, sparked a furious social media debate about the correct amount and application of the popular spread.

Wilson asked Twitter to help her compile a music playlist for those in isolation, calling it "Quarantunes".

- Christine Flatley, AAP

 

'People will lose their jobs'

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann says people will lose their jobs and businesses will close as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on the economy in the "grim period" ahead.

Speaking on Sky News this morning, Mr Cormann said the key would be providing the "appropriate levels of support through the transition to the other side of this challenging period".

He would not rule out government bailouts for hard-hit companies in the tourism and aviation sectors like Qantas and Virgin, but pointed out some companies like Coles and Woolworths were "dealing with significant demand".

 

 

"So there might be opportunity to pragmatically try to channel workers from one to the other," he said. "Some sectors of the economy are particularly badly affected, but there are some sectors who are doing really well - if you're a shopping centre right now you're experiencing record demand."

Mr Cormann predicted there would be a "significant bounceback on the other side, a strong recovery" but "we need to get to the other side" and the question was "how can we support as many businesses as possible through this transition".

He would not speculate on predictions the unemployment rate could reach 7 per cent - from 5.3 per cent currently.

"We do understand in the grim period ahead some businesses will close and some will lose their jobs, and we want to ensure they have support," he said. "You support someone who's lost their job either by getting them into another job or providing an appropriate level of income support."

 

 

Mr Cormann said the government was meeting "day in and day out" to put together a comprehensive stimulus package to present to parliament. "We are trying to act quickly but also act appropriately," he said.

He also declined to comment on whether there would be widespread shutdowns of schools, pubs, clubs and restaurants, after earlier reports that a ban on gatherings of 100 or more would be considered at the national cabinet today.

"We will continue to act on the medical advice in relation to these matters," he said.

"When it comes to schools, our advice is that schools should remain open for good reason, both from a public health and an economic point of view. We of course respect the right of parents to make their own decisions but by the same token, right now we do not have medical advice suggesting in Australia right now it would be appropriate to close schools."

 

Possible ban on groups of 100

Australia's federal, state and territory leaders will consider banning gatherings of 100 or more people at today's national cabinet meeting.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday announced a ban on gatherings of 500 or more people, and has flagged that further restrictions around smaller indoor gatherings would be looked at today.

Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, first floated the proposal with federal, state and territory leaders on Sunday, according to The Guardian.

 

 

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, which is made up the Chief Medical Officers from the Commonwealth, states and territories, will again discuss the issue today.

They will then present their recommendation to the national cabinet. The Guardian reports that leaders were told at Sunday's meeting there was a "strong possibility" a ban on smaller gatherings would be the next step required to control the outbreak.

It's expected that the expanded ban would still not apply to schools - despite growing calls for a shutdown - but would affect large hospitality venues, restaurants and bars.

 

150,000 people could die

Up to 150,000 people could die from the new coronavirus, according to Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly.

Speaking to reporters in Canberra yesterday, Professor Kelly said anywhere from 20 to 60 per cent of the population could ultimately contract COVID-19.

He declined to put a number on deaths but said the mortality rate was about 1 per cent, telling the reporter, "You can do the maths."

 

 

That means in the best-case scenario where 20 per cent are infected, 50,000 people could die. In the worst-case scenario of 60 per cent, there could be 150,000 deaths.

On 2GB radio this morning, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said 6000 people in the state could die. She put the mortality rate of COVID-19 at 0.6 per cent, compared with about 0.1 per cent for the seasonal flu.

"Last year we had 500 people die of the flu, if you multiply that by six that's 6000 people assuming the same amount of people get the virus and we're worried many more people will get virus," she said.

 

Elderly shopping hour begins

A dedicated shopping hour is underway for seniors and pension card holders who've been disadvantaged by panic buying by the general public in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

The initiative set up the major supermarket groups starts on Tuesday at Woolworths supermarkets nationally from 7am to 8am on weekdays.

Woolworths will open its doors exclusively to people with a relevant government-issued concession card for the hour, before opening to everyone else after 8am.

"This temporary measure will give them, and those with a disability, the opportunity to shop before our stores officially open - helping them obtain the essential items they need most in a less-crowded environment," Managing Director Claire Peters said.

 

Panic buying in recent weeks sparked by the spread of COVID-19 in Australia has seen supermarkets stripped of toilet paper, pasta and tinned and other dried goods.

The issue has caused stress and frustration amongst elderly shoppers, many of whom find it difficult to make frequent visits to supermarkets for essential goods.

In many cases, particularly for toilet paper, the shelves are often stripped bare.

The Coles shopping hour will start on Wednesday, when its stores also open at 7am for customers holding a government-issued Pensioner Concession Card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, Companion Card and Health Care Card.

Coles is also seeking more than 5000 casual workers to help restock its supermarkets faster under a fast-tracked induction process and will hire more Coles Online delivery van drivers.

 

 

 

 

It also plans to dedicate grocery deliveries to people who are isolated and vulnerable. This means deliveries for other customers will be temporarily suspended, as will the Click&Collect service.

"We believe all Australians deserve the right to access their share of grocery items, particularly the elderly and the vulnerable," Coles CEO Steven Cain said.

Meanwhile, the smaller national supermarket chain IGA is considering whether to roll out a similar pensioners-and-seniors-only shopping hour across its 1300 Australian stores.

The idea is being trialled at an IGA in Melbourne's Altona, with a shopping hour between 6am to 7am, which could be extended across its network if successful.

IGA Chief Executive Fred Harrison said on Monday a final decision would be made by Wednesday.

- AAP

 

WA freezes household fees

Confirmed coronavirus cases in Western Australia have surged to 28 after jumping by 10 overnight.

Premier Mark McGowan said all of the new cases were Perth residents.

"Travel information is still pending for most cases - one recently reported returning from Hawaii, there are two sets of linked husband-and-wife cases," Mr McGowan told reporters on Monday.

One person is in a serious but stable condition in hospital.

The state government announced a $607 million economic stimulus package, including freezing household fees and charges, and doubling the emergency assistance payment to $600 for eligible concession card holders.

It also made available up to 20 days' COVID-19 leave to all public sector workers who have exhausted their paid personal, carers or sick leave entitlements.

WA joined NSW, Tasmania and Victoria in cancelling ANZAC Day services to reduce the coronavirus spread.

Western Australia's RSL announced the cancellation - the first since 1942 - after the federal government banned gatherings of more than 500 people.

It will also include smaller regional events.

Last year, about 30,000 people attended the ANZAC Day dawn service at Kings Park and an estimated 10,000 people later lined Perth CBD streets for the march.

"We need to defend ourselves and do the right thing, not only for our veterans, many of whom are older people, but also their families and the general public," RSLWA chief executive John McCourt told 6PR radio.

He said plans were under way for some sort of live-streamed commemoration that the public could watch via social media.

WA schools have introduced precautionary measures including cancelling events and staggering recess and lunch breaks to slow the spread of the disease.

The McGowan government declared a state of emergency on Sunday, warning overseas arrivals who breach the 14-day self-isolation period will face the nation's toughest penalties with fines up to $50,000.

Mr McGowan urged people to report anyone defying the ban to police.

"Public health officers, with the assistance of police, will be able to enforce it," he said.

He said authorities had a list of names from airlines "so there is the opportunity to follow this up".

Jury trials have also been postponed, with those listed to commence in March, April and May to be considered for a trial by judge alone.

The Supreme Court of WA remains open to the public, but it urged anyone other than legal practitioners, involved parties, witnesses and media not to attend.

- AAP

 

NSW unveils $2.3 billion package

More than $2 billion will be pumped into the NSW economy to counter the financial havoc caused by the global coronavirus pandemic.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Tuesday announced a $2.3 billion stimulus package, consisting of $700 million for healthcare and $1.6 billion for job creation and tax relief.

Major features include capital works investments, payroll tax relief and waiving charges and licence fees for small businesses.

There has been $700 million earmarked to ramp up COVID-19 testing, establish dedicated fever clinics and double intensive care capacity.

"Our first priority is always the health of the people of this state and looking after their families and jobs," Ms Berejiklian said.

 

 

Treasurer Dominic Perrotet says the government will do "whatever it takes" to weather the crisis.

"In simple terms, this money will help save the lives of loved ones and protect jobs," he said.

NSW authorities are meanwhile hoping a series of unprecedented measures will help contain the rapid spread of the potentially-lethal infection.

Residents flouting isolation rules can now be slapped with an $11,000 fine or jailed for as long as six months.

Police have also been given the discretion to avoid stationary drug and alcohol testing if they believe it is unhygienic.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard says the state is on track to experience a "substantial exponential increase" in coronavirus infections.

The number of confirmed cased of COVID-19 in NSW almost doubled over the weekend to reach 171 on Monday.

RSL NSW on Monday decided to cancel all public Anzac Day services across the state.

The Sydney Writers' Festival has also been cancelled.

There are now more than 300 coronavirus cases across Australia.

- Steven Trask, AAP

 

Social distancing 'not enough'

The World Health Organisation on Monday called for countries to test every suspected case of COVID-19, as the rest of the world registered more cases and deaths in the pandemic than China.

"You cannot fight a fire blindfolded," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters in a virtual press conference from the UN agency's headquarters in Geneva.

"In the past week, we have seen a rapid escalation of cases of COVID-19," he said, as the global death toll in the pandemic soared past 7000.

More cases and deaths have now been reported in the rest of the world than in China, where the new coronavirus first surfaced in December, he added.

Tedros did not provide the latest numbers, but according to an AFP tally Monday based on official sources, more than 175,500 cases have been recorded worldwide.

The worst affected countries in terms of fatalities are mainland China, with more than 3200 deaths, Italy with more than 2000 deaths, more than 853 in Iran and more than 300 in Spain.

The WHO chief warned that as cases are soaring "we have not seen an urgent enough escalation in testing, isolation and contact tracing, which is the backbone of the response".

TEST AND ISOLATE

He hailed dramatic measures put in place by a range of governments, including the closing of schools and shops, pointing out that "social distancing measures can help to reduce transmission and enable health systems to cope".

Efforts to get people to wash their hands and sneeze into an elbow were also important tools to reduce transmission, he said.

"But on their own, they are not enough to extinguish this pandemic," Mr Tedros warned, stressing the need to break the chains of transmission.

"To do that, you must test and isolate," he said, stressing that "we cannot stop this pandemic if we don't know who is infected".

The WHO, he said, was urging countries to "test, test, test - test every suspected case".

He hailed the surging production in tests to meet the global demand, and noted that the WHO itself had shipped nearly 1.5 million tests to 120 countries, to help those most in need.

"WHO advises that all confirmed cases, even mild cases, should be isolated in health facilities, to prevent transmission and provide adequate care," Mr Tedros said.

He acknowledged though that many countries have already exceeded their capacity to care for mild cases, and urged those countries to prioritise older patients and those with underlying health conditions, while others could be isolated at home.

Virus a 'shared burden'

Dr Michael Bonning from the Australian Medical Association has urged people not to be "irresponsible" and get out and about in the community just because things might be cheaper.

He was asked about slowing the spread of the coronavirus when he appeared on Today this morning.

"The risk for any particular individual is still quite low here in Australia. We have hundreds of cases, not thousands," he said.

"But the important thing for any individual is that you're still going to come in contact if you live in a house with other people, if you have to go down to the shop and get things, if you need to see your doctor later on. The ability to lock people down and still allow them the things that they need to live is actually pretty difficult."

Dr Bonning said "lockdown" indicates it is "a problem for only some people". "It's a problem for everyone," he said.

"People saying, 'I'm going to go and do things now because it's cheaper' is irresponsible for everyone. This is a shared, kind of, burden that we're all going to have over the next number of months while this goes on."