Daily News Roundup

March 18, 2020

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 18

Non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people have been banned by the Federal Government as the country responds to the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also warned Australians not to leave the country as the disease spreads, saying: “We haven’t seen this sort of thing in Australia since the end of the First World War.”

The ABC reported the Prime Minister has announced that:

  • The Federal Government is advising Australians not to travel overseas, and says that advice will remain in place indefinitely
  • Indoor gatherings of more than 100 people are banned but schools, universities, airports, public transport, medical and emergency services facilities, aged care homes, jails, courts, parliaments, supermarkets and many workplaces are exempt
  • Work restrictions on 20,000 student nurses have been lifted, so that they can help with the health response
  • A human biosecurity emergency has been declared, giving the Federal Government extra powers to respond to the crisis
  • There are new rules restricting visits to aged care homes
  • Schools will remain open for the foreseeable future, based on the advice of health officials.

“This is a once-in-a-100-year-type event,” Mr Morrison said.

“Life is changing in Australia, as it is changing all around the world. Life is going to continue to change.

“The travel advice to every Australian is do not travel abroad. Do not go overseas.”

The new restrictions were agreed to during a phone hook-up with federal, state and territory leaders last night.

Aged care restrictions

Anyone who has been overseas or in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 within a fortnight will be banned from visiting aged care homes.

Aged care residents will only be able to have two visitors at a time.

No school groups will be allowed to visit.

Large indoor gatherings banned

While imposing the 100-person indoor restriction, the Government is also considering further restrictions on crowded indoor environments.

The Prime Minister said religious gatherings must comply with the new measures.

The pre-existing ban restricting mass outdoor gatherings to 500 people will remain in place.

‘No more hand-shaking, no more hugging’

Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy urged Australians to continue social distancing and keep at least 1.5 metres apart.

“No more hand-shaking, no more hugging, except in your family,” Dr Murphy said.

“You can do that in your family because you’re already close to your family.

“No more scant attention to hand hygiene. Wash your hands all the time. Use hand sanitiser and just practice sensible practices.”

PM tells people to stop panic buying

Mr Morrison also pleaded with Australians to stop panic buying and hoarding, which has stripped supermarkets of supplies.

“I can’t be more blunt about it. Stop it,” he said.

The Prime Minister said there were no supply shortages and that health experts had advised the Government there was no need for “bulk purchases”.

“There is no reason for people to be hoarding supplies in fear of a lockdown or anything like this,” he said.

The Government’s advice is for people to have a few days’ worth of supplies. They have been urged to return to regular shopping habits to give supermarkets a chance to restock their shelves.

The European Union has introduced a travel ban that prohibits most foreigners from entering the bloc for 30 days to discourage the spread of the new coronavirus.

EU leaders agreed on Tuesday (local time) to shut down the 27-nation bloc’s external borders immediately and to set up fast-track transport lanes to keep vital medical equipment, food and goods flowing smoothly.

As the virus case count in Europe climbed to more than 60,000 and with more than 2,700 people dead, nervous national governments have introduced quick-fix measures such as partial border closures and quarantines with little consultation.

“We reaffirmed the need to work together and do everything necessary to tackle the crisis and its consequences,” European Council President Charles Michel told reporters.

He said the 27 EU countries agreed to impose border restrictions on tourism and non-essential business “as fast as possible”.

Virgin Australia is grounding its international fleet in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with some aviation experts warning the company may fail to survive the crisis despite Federal Government stimulus measures.

In a statement to the ASX on Wednesday morning, the airline said all international services would be suspended from March 30 to June 14.

The airline is also slashing domestic capacity by 50 per cent until June 14.

The equivalent of 53 aircraft will be grounded.

This includes the grounding of five Boeing 777s, one Airbus A330 and 14 Boeing 737 aircraft from the group’s international fleet.

“We have entered an unprecedented time in the global aviation industry,” Virgin Australia CEO and managing director Paul Scurrah said.

“[That] has required us to take significant action to responsibly manage our business while balancing traveller demands and supporting the wellbeing of Australians.”