Update: March 23, 2020
In a press conference this morning, March 23, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian encouraged parents to keep their kids home from school in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Despite this request, Premier Berejiklian announced that schools in NSW would remain open.
“For parents that have no option, for parents that are workers, school is safe for children to attend and schools will remain open,” she said.
Berejiklian revealed that many parents have already made the decision to keep kids at home, with a recent 30% decrease in public school attendance.
According to the ABC, there are now 669 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in NSW. 136 new cases were announced this morning alone.
Meanwhile, Victoria will bring its school holidays forward to Tuesday, March 24, the SBS has reported. Schools in Canberra will move to online learning the same day.
Victorian police announce taskforce
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced the creation of a police taskforce that will enforce social distancing rules. The taskforce will contain 500 police officers who will be targeting those ignoring the latest recommendations from the Government.
“It will be a very different school holiday than usual and it needs to be because if we don’t start taking these things seriously then we will be talking about a quite amazing tragedy,” Andrews said.
“Now, many Victorians are doing the right thing, they are keeping their distance, they are observing the rules that have been written but there are many Victorians who are acting selfishly. They are not taking this seriously. They are doing the wrong thing and if that continues, then people will die.”
All non-essential services to temporarily close
This decision means that all pubs, club, gyms, cinemas and places of worship will close in a few hours. Restaurants and cafes will remain open but are only allowed to offer takeaway services.
“We now need to take action because we cannot have the confidence as a group of leaders that the social distancing guidelines and rules that we have put in place won’t be followed to the level of compliance that we require to flatten the curve and slow the spread and save lives,” Morrison said.
“This should highlight to all Australians how serious this is and how hard we all have to work together to get this right.”
Morrison urged the public to not flood any of the venues that would soon be closing.
“What we’re doing is closing down gatherings in pubs and clubs and things of that nature,” Morrison said.
“There is also no reason for anyone to rush to any of those venues tomorrow before midday. That would be highly irresponsible. I would just simply ask Australians to get a hold of themselves if they were thinking of doing something of that nature.”
The current health crisis is evolving rapidly. If you suspect you or a family member has coronavirus you should call (not visit) your GP or ring the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
Update: March 20, 2020
In a press conference this afternoon, March 20, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced an update to the restrictions placed on gatherings of less than 100 people.
While this rule is still in place, there are now spacial-related concerns connected to it.
“What we are now moving to is an arrangement for gatherings of less than 100, is that they would be four square metres provided per person in an enclosed space, in a room,” Morrison said.
“So that’s 2m by 2m. So for example, if you’ve got a room, if you’ve got a premises, if you’ve got a meeting room or something like that, that’s 100 square metres, then you can have 25 people in that room.”
A financial boost to aged care
As the Government attempts to protect the aged care community from the effects of COVID-19, Morrison has announced a funding boost to the sector.
“On aged care… we are providing $444.6 million of additional funding from the Commonwealth to support aged care facilities. Now, that is on top of the more than $100 million that I announced last week in relation to workforce a support across the country for aged care,” he said.
“That includes $234.9 million for a retention bonus to ensure the continuity of the workforce for staff in both residential and home care. There is a $78.3 million in additional funding for residential care to support continuity of workforce supply. There is $26.9 million to supplement the viability of residential aged care facilities. There is $92 million being provided in additional support for home care providers and organisations which deliver the Commonwealth home support program, including for services such as Meals on Wheels, and $12.3 million to support the aged care service to respond to the needs of older Australians.”
Restrictions placed on certain domestic travel
While international travel has been severely restricted, domestic travel has still been available to the public. Today, Morrison revealed plans to stop individuals from travelling into Indigenous communities. Each state and territory will nominate particular areas that shouldn’t be visited by the public.
“Under the Biosecurity Act we’ll be using the Health Minister’s powers to ensure that we are taking action to restrict travel into remote Indigenous communities to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” Morrison said.
“The way this will work is states and territories will nominate prescribed areas — that is, communities — in consultation with Indigenous communities as an emergency requirement to determine – as determined by the Biosecurity Act that will restrict persons from entering or leaving those prescribed areas.
“Now there’ll be a number of exemptions that will apply …for the purposes of supplying or undertaking critical services such as medical care, for mental health or domestic violence support, police and emergency services, food and medical supplies, educational and maintenance and repairs of essential services.”
Myer closes Sydney store after staff member tests positive to COVID-19
Myer has closed its Castle Hill store, in Sydney’s north-west, after a staff member was confirmed to have coronavirus, the ABC has reported.
The department store has urged any customers who visited the store between March 11 to 17 to get tested for COVID-19 should they develop any symptoms.
A thorough cleaning of the store is being undertaken and employees who came into contact with the staff member have gone into self-quarantine.
World Health Organisation gives OK for ibuprofen
Earlier in the week, the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued a warning for coronavirus patients to steer clear of ibuprofen.
This statement came after French officials highlighted a study that linked negative side effects of ibuprofen to COVID-19.
On Thursday, March 19, the WHO withdrew its original warning as it wasn’t aware of any proven research that supported this claim, as reported by SBS.
Queensland records 50 confirmed cases in one day
The sunshine state has recorded its largest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in one day.
On March 19, QLD confirmed that 50 people had been confirmed to have coronavirus in the same day, taking the state’s total up to 144 people, according to Queensland Health.
On the other hand, NSW experienced a fall in reported cases for the first time in eight days.
According to the ABC, the number of confirmed cases in Australia is now over 700.
Update: March 19, 2020
In a media briefing this afternoon, Scott Morrison announced that as of 9pm on March 20, 2020, only residents and citizens of Australia will be granted entry to the country in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Tonight, we will be resolving to move to a position where a travel ban will be placed on all nonresidents, non-Australian citizens coming to Australia, and that will be in place from 9:00pm tomorrow evening,” Morrison said.
This unprecedented decision is based on the fact that a large majority of the cases have originated from those arriving from overseas, as reported by the ABC.
NSW records the highest number of cases
New South Wales experienced its biggest jump in confirmed cases of COVID-19 this week, with a massive 57 people diagnosed on Tuesday, March 17.
Australia also recorded its sixth coronavirus related death on the same day, with an 86-year-old man passing away in a Sydney hospital. This marks the fifth death in NSW alone.
In response, the City of Sydney has cancelled or postponed all upcoming events and will be closing aquatic centres and gyms from this Friday, March 20 until April 3. There have also been restricted hours put in place at libraries and community centres across the state, as reported to the ABC.
“The safety of our communities, customers and staff is our top priority,” Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.
According to NSW Health, the number of confirmed cases in NSW currently sits at 307. The number of confirmed cases across the country is still showing as 454 on the Department of Health website, which was updated at 6:30am on March 18, 2020.
A coronavirus vaccine is tested on humans
Scientists around the globe have been racing to create a vaccine against COVID-19 (including a bunch of Aussie researchers), but a vaccine has officially been tested on humans in the U.S.
According to the ABC, researchers in Seattle have administered two injections 28 days apart to 45 participants in order to test the safety of the vaccine.
Qantas stands down two-thirds of its employees
Only days after announcing that Qantas and Jetstar were slashing their international capacity by 90%, Qantas has announced that it will be standing down two-thirds of its employees until at least the end of May.
This move is a preventative measure being taken in an attempt to protect the jobs of the 30,000 employees, according to the ABC.
Update: March 18, 2020
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced new travel restrictions during a press conference this morning.
Morrison urged Australians to re-think their travel plans, effectively placing a ban on all international travel for the foreseeable future.
“That is the first time that has ever happened in Australia’s history,” Prime Minister Morrison said. “For those who are thinking of going overseas in the school holidays, don’t. Don’t go overseas. The biggest risk we have had and the biggest incidents of cases we have had has been from Australians returning from overseas, from many countries that you wouldn’t have expected that to be a source.”
This announcement by Morrison came just moments after Virgin Australia announced that it was grounding its entire international fleet, as reported by the ABC. International flights will be cancelled from March 30 to June 14.
In a statement, the airline also revealed it would be slashing its domestic capacity by 50% until June.
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.”
Domestic travel still allowed
While Morrison said that domestic travel is still OK, he advised people to not visit areas where residents could be vulnerable.
“The only issues of closing off particular areas is sensitive areas. So you know, places where essentially, there’s remote Indigenous communities, and this is already happening in parts of the Northern Territory,” he said.
“And if anything, in some of those communities, it’s about keeping teachers and others in those communities, and ensuring that people don’t leave and come back. So you know, the issues that have to be addressed here are principally around health, and if there’s a health reason that you’d want to isolate particular areas of the country, well, the powers exist for that to happen now.”
New rules around gatherings of 100 people or more
In the same speech, Morrison also introduced a new rule for mass gatherings. While the previous rule still stands (no non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people outdoors), there is now a ban on non-essential gatherings of persons 100 or greater in an indoor area. This ban comes into effect today.
Morrison also confirmed what ‘essential’ gatherings look like.
“To define what is a non-essential gathering, there is a baseline that has been established amongst the national cabinet which reflected in a lot of the legislation that was put in in relation to the outdoor ban and that is an airport, public transportation, which includes public transportation facilities, such as stations, platforms, stops, trains, trams, buses, these are essential,” he said.
“Medical and health service facilities, emergency service facilities, disability or aged care facilities – I will come to aged care and the constraints we are putting on that shortly. Correctional facilities, youth justice centres or other places of custody, courts or tribunals. Parliaments, food market, supermarket, grocery store, retail store, shopping centre that is necessary for the normal business of those promises. Office buildings, factories, construction sites, mining sites, necessary for their normal operation.”
Morrison revealed that “churches, mosques, synagogues” would also have to comply with this ban but certain “practical issues” had to be worked out.
Schools are staying open
Morrison used Singapore as an example of why school should remain open here in Australia.
“Singapore has been one of the more successful countries. In Singapore, the schools are open,” he said.
Morrison advised that there should only be “one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell”.
“Don’t leave it to the teacher to work that out when they arrive, or the school administrator or whoever is on drop-off, make sure, if your child is unwell, that you are taking action to keep your child out of school.”
Visits to aged care facilities restricted
Access to aged care facilities has been restricted by the Government in order to protect vulnerable residents.
“I know this could be very difficult for families,” Morrison said.
Staff or visitors who have recently returned from overseas in the last two weeks have been banned as well as those who have had contact with anyone confirmed to have coronavirus. He also advised that children under the age of 16 should visit “only by exception”. There will also be a limit to the number of visitors, with a maximum of two people allowed at a time.
“Visits should be conducted in a resident’s room, outdoors or in a specific area designated by the facility, rather than communal areas where the risk of transmission to other residents is greater,” Morrison said. “There should be no large group visits or gatherings.”
Morrison calls for an end to panic buying
In his press conference this morning, Morrison also addressed the wave of panic buying that has gripped Australians over the last few weeks. And, he was not happy about it.
“On bulk purchasing of supplies – stop hoarding,” he said.
“I can’t be more blunt about it. Stop it. It is not sensible, it is not helpful and it has been one of the most disappointing things I have seen in Australian behaviour in response to this crisis. That is not who we are as a people. It is not necessary. It is not something that people should be doing. What it does is distract attention and efforts that need to be going into other measures, to be focusing on how we maintain supply chains into these shopping centres.”
Morrison called the behaviour “un-Australian” and asked for people to use their common sense during this time.
“It must stop, and I would ask people to do the right thing by each other in getting a handle on these sorts of practices. Also, do not abuse staff. We’re all in this together.”
Update: March 17, 2020
Qantas and Jetstar have announced today that they will cut 90% of their international flights until approximately the end of May.
The airlines will also cut their domestic capacity by roughly 60%, according to the ABC.
Since the outbreak of coronavirus, the airlines have experienced a drop in demand for flights and have decided to ground around 150 planes in response.
“Despite the deep cuts, the national carrier’s critical role in transporting people and goods on key international, domestic, routes will be maintained,” a statement from the airlines read.
“This includes using some domestic passenger aircraft for freight-only flights to replace lost capacity from regular scheduled services.”
The company also announced a booking wavier, which allows customers to suspend or change their flights. According to the ABC, customers with existing bookings up to May 31 can cancel their flights and get a credit voucher.
The downturn in travel is a worry for employees and the company said it was currently working through this.
“The Qantas Group is working to manage this impact as much as possible, including through the use of paid and unpaid leave,” the statement said.
The Government considers further restrictions on mass gatherings
Meanwhile, the Federal Government is in talks today about tightening the restrictions around mass gatherings, the ABC has reported. Currently, there is only a ban on gatherings of 500 people or more, but Finance Minister Mathias Cormann revealed that the Government is considering making a change.
“We continue to receive medical advice,” he said. “Obviously some other parts of the world, in particular, Europe and also the US, are somewhat further advanced in terms of the spread of the virus there.
“But we will continue to act as we are advised. As the Prime Minister indicated yesterday in relation to some of these things, it is important to time these decisions in the right way.
“We will be making announcements before the Parliament returns next week.”
According to the Department of Health, the confirmed number of cases within Australia still stands at 298 (as of 1pm on March 16, 2020).
Update: March 16, 2020
NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian has revealed that police now have the power to force people to stay at home if they are not complying with the new self-isolation rules, as reported by the ABC.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced yesterday that anyone returning to Australia from overseas must self-quarantine at home for two weeks.
“We can’t pretend that these are normal circumstances, because they’re not,” Berejiklian said. “We can’t pretend that it is business as usual, because it’s not. We all need to be prepared for what might happen in the next few weeks and months.”
Berejiklian encouraged the public to alert the authorities if people were turning up to their place of work when they should be in isolation.
“People should report these cases of people turning up to work when they shouldn’t,” she said. “If they’re engaging in community and social life and they shouldn’t, let us know. There’s additional advice we’re putting up on the NSW Health website, but you can let the relevant authorities know and the police can turn up and enforce that person to stay home.”
This comes after one person was found ignoring the new self-quarantine rule after travelling and “police were involved to make sure that person did the right thing”.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will meet with the Treasurer and Finance Minister this afternoon to discuss further measures to protect Australia’s economic future, the ABC has reported.
Morrison has announced that he will also be relocating from Sydney to Canberra in order to easily conduct meetings of the National Security Committee of Cabinet.
The number of confirmed cases rises
As of 1pm on March 16, there are currently 298 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia, according to the Department of Health. New South Wales accounts for 134 of those cases.
Across the world, there are more than 162,000 confirmed cases. The current death toll stands at more than 6,300.
Schools stay open
Meanwhile, parents and teachers around the country are calling for schools to be shut down. Despite the government recently banning gatherings of more than 500 people, this change doesn’t apply to schools or universities.
Instead, schools are attempting to implement social distancing, the SBS has reported.
“Getting ready to go to work as a teacher where I am going to be in contact with over 1000 people today,” one teacher wrote on Twitter. “The government is currently putting mine and every other student and teachers lives at risk. As well as our families.”
Woolies implements restricted hours
In some more positive news, supermarket chain Woolworths is trialling restricted shopping hours until Friday. Due to the panic buying pandemonium that has taken place around the country, many elderly and disabled people haven’t been able to secure their groceries. So, until Friday this week, Woolworths stores will only be allowing the elderly and people with disabilities to shop between the hours of 7 to 8AM.
We applaud the move, Woolies!
We’re launching a dedicated shopping hour in our stores to help support the needs of the elderly & people with disability in the community. From tomorrow until at least friday, we’ll be opening exclusively for them to shop from 7-8am, where permitted.
— Woolworths (@woolworths) March 15, 2020
Update: March 13, 2020
A fourth high school has closed in Australia due to a confirmed case of coronavirus just one day after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. According to the ABC, students of the affected school have been advised to self-isolate but the Secretary of the Department of Education Mark Scott thinks that the school, which is located in the Blue Mountains, will be back open as of Monday.
Doctors are also urging the government to put a stop to public gatherings, like sporting events because the risk of spread is so high. Professor Guy Marks, who is a respiratory physician, epidemiologist and a public health physician, agrees that individuals should avoid congregating with large groups of people at this time.
“The methods to prevent the spread of the virus also protect us as individuals: frequent hand washing, avoid congregating with others and working from home where possible,” Professor Marks told TheLatch—. “Not much else we can do as individuals. Public health is the key — we need to follow the advice of the public health authorities.”
According to Professor Marks, labelling COVID-19 a panedemic won’t change much for us here in Australia.
“I don’t think it has any direct impact on the management of the epidemic here,” he said. “It is clear that it is spreading in many countries and we need to take robust actions to try to slow its progress.”
While Professor Marks thinks coronavirus will affect many people here in Australia, the hope is that it happens over a longer period of time, rather than all of once.
“There is a risk that very many people may all be affected at once and this will overwhelm the health services (as in Wuhan and in Northern Italy). It is the latter problem that we are trying to avoid by slowing the rate of spread in the community — so-called ‘flattening the curve’. If the cases are spread over a longer period of time, the health services will be in a better position to cope with the demand.”
As we’ve seen with other countries around the world, many individuals will most likely contract COVID-19, but it should be mild for the average, healthy person.
“Many people will be infected with the virus but, for most people, it will be a fairly mild illness,” Professor Marks said. “As with influenza (and other respiratory viruses), some people will be more seriously affected. A minority of people will require hospital care and a minority of these will be seriously ill and require intensive care. The difference from influenza is the proportion who get seriously ill seems to be a bit higher than for influenza (although this is not absolutely certain).”
The director-general of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom, conveyed similar sentiments at a media briefing on March 12.
“This is a controllable pandemic,” he said. “Countries that decide to give up on fundamental public health measures may end up with a larger problem, and a heavier burden on the health system that requires more severe measures to control. All countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, preventing economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights.”
March 12, 2020
The WHO had noted its reluctance to attach the term ‘pandemic’ to the current coronavirus crisis, as the organisation didn’t want to cause undue panic around the world.
“Pandemic is not a word to use lightly or carelessly,” said Tedros Adhanom, Director-General of the WHO, in a media briefing. “It is a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over, leading to unnecessary suffering and death.”
Adhanom made it clear that despite now calling it a pandemic, it doesn’t change the response of the WHO.
“Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this virus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do.”
According to the WHO, the current number of confirmed cases stands at more than 118,000 in 114 countries and 4,291 people have died. The Australian Government Department of Health says there are 112 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia, as of March 11.
What does the pandemic mean for Australia?
On February 27, the Morrison government announced that it was activating an emergency plan to deal with coronavirus. Since then, the government has been treating COVID-19 as a pandemic, despite the WHO not claiming it as one at the time.
On March 11, the government unveiled a $2.4 billion health package to protect all Australians from coronavirus. According to the Department of Health, the package pays particular attention to those most vulnerable to COVID-19, including the elderly.
This package will also help businesses, by providing payments of up to $25,000 and tax relief, in order to get them spending money. Those on welfare will also be given a one-off payment in an attempt to stop the country falling into recession, as reported by the ABC. The finer details of the package are expected to revealed by the government today, March 12.
A major part of the health package is the $205 million set aside for the creation of 100 temporary fever clinics. These clinics will be testing people who think they may have coronavirus in order to stop those with mild symptoms from visiting GPs and hospital emergency rooms. This will also hopefully help to reduce the spread of the virus.
According to The Guardian, GPs and nurses at these clinics will have the capacity to see up to 75 patients per day. And, this allows the testing of potentially a million people over the next six months.
The government has also included a new Medicare-related upgrade, which allows GPs to conduct appointments over the phone or via video chat with people with suspected symptoms. This service officially starts on Friday, March 13 and will be bulk billed.
It will only be available to those who have been advised by their doctor to self-isolate, as well as individuals over the age of 70, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 50, parents with newborns, pregnant women and individuals with chronic health conditions.
What is the current travel ban in Australia?
At this time, there are restrictions on travellers from the following countries: the Republic of Korea, Iran, Mainland China and Italy. Australian’s returning from these countries are required to self-isolate for 14 days from the time they left the country in question.
There has also been a crackdown on people boarding planes, and airlines have the right to refuse anyone who appears unwell. According to the Department of Health, “any passengers identified as unwell on the flight will be identified and referred for further assessment upon arrival”.
The current health advice
The Department of Health recommends only those who are already unwell wear surgical masks, as there is little evidence that supports that healthy people wearing masks stops transmission of the virus.
And, another personal hygiene reminder:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water
- Use a tissue and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
- Avoid close contact with others, such as touching