Coronavirus: 'We have to find every infected person'

Draconian stage two lockdown measures are now in force across the country with New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria likely to bring in even stronger rules within days, as the coronavirus death toll rises to 11.

More than 280,000 people lodged an 'intent to claim' notice with Centrelink yesterday, with fears up to two million Australians could be left unemployed in the worst crisis since the Great Depression as a result of a government-imposed shutdown of the economy in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19.

As states and territories closed their borders for the first time in a century, NSW, Victoria and the ACT yesterday warned residents to brace for even more job losses under tougher measures that will shut down a broader range of businesses and further restrict social movement, with Canberra's leader promising only that "we will keep the power on, and the water running".

More than 2700 cases of COVID-19 have now been confirmed across Australia with 1219 in New South Wales, 520 in Victoria, 493 in Queensland, 205 in Western Australia, 197 in South Australia, 53 in the ACT, 42 in Tasmania and six in the Northern Territory.

Eleven people have died - one in WA, seven in NSW, one in Queensland and two in Victoria.

 

Nine new cases in ACT - one recovered

Frank Chung

The ACT has reported nine new coronavirus cases overnight bringing the total to 53 - but says one person has now recovered.

ACT Health says the national capital's first case of COVID-19, a man in his 30s who was confirmed on March 12, "has now shed the virus and is no longer required to self-isolate".

The new cases today are six men and three women aged between 21 and 83. Eight are linked to overseas travel, including cruise ships, and one is a close contact of a previously confirmed case.

"There is currently no evidence of community transmission in the ACT," ACT Health said.

Three patients are currently in Canberra Hospital in a stable condition and the rest are isolating at home. There have been 3219 negative COVID-19 tests in the ACT to date.

'No Sydney Harbour fiasco on our watch'

Frank Chung

Mark McGowan is talking tough on the three cruise ships, which he says remain "the number one issue we are dealing with".

"It is extremely complicated. It is of international significance. I am 100 per cent clear on this - no one will be disembarking at Fremantle unless a passenger is in a life-threatening emergency," the West Australian Premier said.

There are around 3000 people in total across the three vessels, including passengers and crew.

Mr McGowan says he understands no one on board the Magnifica is unwell. "We are doing what we can to assist that cruise ship to be able to get on its way to Europe or to another port," he said.

Seven European passengers on the Artania tested positive for coronavirus out of 25 who reported illness. Two others tested negative, "however they are unwell and there are concerns from WA Health that they might also be positive", Mr McGowan said.

There are more than 800 passengers on board, mainly Germans, and 500 crew. Mr McGowan said his position was that ship was a Commonwealth responsibility.

"WA's position is this - if the seven passengers need to come on shore for medical treatment, they will have to go to a Commonwealth facility, such as a Defence Force base," he said.

"If this occurred, then Germany and the Australian government can organise a plane to come and pick those passengers up and take them home. We are working with the Australian government to do this

immediately."

Mr McGowan said the Artania must continue its journey to South Africa "urgently". "This ship needs to leave immediately," he said. "I want the Commonwealth to make that happen."

The Vasco da Gama ship is carrying 800 Australians, 109 New Zealanders and a number from other countries including 33 UK citizens.

"As you are aware, arrangements are being made as we speak to disembark the Australians to Rottnest Island for the mandatory 14-day self-isolation period," he said.

"Last night we directed the master of that ship to delay its arrival until Monday. We did this to give us more time to arrange the logistics of the Rottnest Island operation."

Mr McGowan added, "I know this all sounds pretty extreme but it's the right thing to do because our first priority is the health and wellbeing of West Australians. Cruise ships continue to have an over-representation of confirmed COVID-19 cases."

He noted a large number of cases were linked to people who were allowed to disembark cruise ships like the Ruby Princess.

"I am not going to repeat the mistakes made in other jurisdictions," he said. "Our position is clear - we are not going to have a Sydney Harbour fiasco on our watch."

WA schools remain open

Frank Chung

West Australian Premier Mark McGowan says schools will remain open until next Friday but has encouraged parents to keep their kids home if they have access to online learning.

"Children of people who need their children to attend school, to enable them to maintain employment and those children in vulnerable families, like children living with grandparents, are encouraged to attend school," he told reporters.

Like other states, WA schools will prepare for remote learning in term two.

1h agoMarch 26, 2020Highlight

'We have to find every infected person'

Frank Chung

ABC health expert Dr Norman Swan says the public is "still confused" about the government's coronavirus strategy. He has called for a "short and sharp", total lockdown lasting four to six-weeks.

The Health Report presenter says that for many people it "defies the imagination how we could be at home in relative lockdown, away from work, without any end in sight".

"How will this go on? If you do this well - short and sharp - it could last four to six weeks," he said on the ABC.

At the end of that period it won't be over, but the virus will be "at such levels we can control it with public health messages".

"I think the messaging from government has stabilised over the past couple of weeks but I think there are still differences of opinion within government about what should be done and I think that's reflected in the advice that's coming out," Dr Swan said.

"I have a feeling that some people in the community are way ahead of the government - they are staying at home. Some, often younger people, are thinking, 'What's the fuss?', turn up at Bondi Beach and bars and cafes and parties, thinking they are invincible, not realising they will spread it to others. It is still a bit too lax."

Dr Swan added that "we can't do it unless the community gets behind it". "We can bitch and moan about testing regimes and governments and all that sort of thing," he said.

"But here's what you have actually got to do for it to be over, so we can go back to kind of normal life, progressively, hospitals can start doing elective surgery - there has to be close to a lockdown. Not like China, where they are welding the doors. You can still go to the shops for your essential goods and so on. But largely, we're staying at home, not mixing with other, and we are in the house with other people."

Dr Swan also called for testing to be dramatically ramped up.

"We have to find every infected person in Australia," he said.

"We've been too slow to extend our testing regime. I understand one reasons why is availability of testing kits, but we really do need to ramp that up. Basically, we have got to get to the point where everybody with a sniffle gets tested, regardless of contact or anything like that."

He acknowledged there would be "enormous wastage" of tens of thousands of tests to find a small number of people, but "that is what you have to do".

"Every person they have come in contact with needs to be pinned down, and this is not voluntary quarantine. You have to go home, you have to be at home," he said.

"If we, as a community, want to be allowed to get back to a normal economy, normal life, we've actually all got to do this."

50 new cases in Queensland

Frank Chung

Queensland schools will be pupil-free from Monday but vulnerable children and the kids of essential workers will still be able to attend.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk issued the student-free directive on Thursday, saying it applies to all schools, not just state schools.

Queensland recorded 50 new cases of coronavirus overnight, taking the total to 493.

Saturday's local government elections will proceed as planned, despite the state's rising tally.

Ms Palaszczuk says voting carries the same risk as heading to the grocery store for food, and said people must simply follow advice on social distancing and hygiene.

In announcing the student-free move, the premier said there'd been no change to the health advice that's kept schools open so far.

But she said the change was about striking the right balance, including in relation to community concerns about the schools-open policy.

Vital staff, from healthcare workers to supermarket shelf stockers, can continue to send their kids to class from Monday.

Vulnerable children will also still be able to attend, and arrangements will be made to protect high-risk education workers.

But parents in non-essential jobs should keep their kids home, and make sure they are learning, not "out and about at shopping centres", the Premier said.

Teachers will use the student-free days to prepare for mass online and remote learning.

"We are making it very clear that student-free days mean that teachers are going to be at school. The schools are going to be open," Ms Palaszczuk told reporters.

"We have a lot of frontline workers out there … that actually need to have their students at school."

Education Minister Grace Grace said community kindergartens would also go pupil- free from Monday.

But long daycare centres would remain open to ensure vital workers can keep showing up to their jobs.

Queensland's Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young says it's safe for people to head out to vote on Saturday.

But she also urged people to get in, vote and get out fast, while abiding by social distancing and hygiene rules.

Earlier on Thursday, the Australian Medical Association of Queensland told voters they should show up to vote wearing masks, if they have them.

The AMAQ also demanded express voting lanes to reduce the risk of elderly people becoming infected at polling booths, and said voters who don't show up due to coronavirus fears should not be fined.

- Tracey Ferrier, AAP

9000 more jobs in limbo

Some of Australia's best-known retail brands will close their doors due to the coronavirus crisis, leaving thousands of jobs in the lurch.

Today Premier Investments Limited - which owns the Just Group, whose brands include Smiggle, Peter Alexander, Just Jeans, Jay Jays, Portmans, Jacqui E and Dotti - became one of the latest companies to shut up shop due to the unprecedented outbreak.

The company has also shut down stores in New Zealand, the UK and the Republic of Ireland, which means 9000 global employees have now been stood down.

In a note to investors, Premier said the company supported the federal and state governments' request for Australians to isolate at home in a bid to control the spread of the illness.

Just Cuts boss slams 'bonkers' move

The boss of Just Cuts has slammed the PM's decision to backflip on the 30-minute haircut rule and called for the industry to be shut down.

"This decision is bonkers," Just Cuts founder and chief executive Denis McFadden said in a statement.

"It is physically impossible for stylists to do a shampoo or haircut without touching the client. It's physically impossible for stylists to do their job and keep the four-square-metre (rule) which national cabinet now says 'must be strictly observed'."

Mr McFadden said it was "not about what services can and can't be provided in a 30-minute window". "This is about health of everyone in our salons, our hairdressers and our clients," he said.

 

Queues formed outside the Annerley Road Centrelink after the announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday night. The line continued to grow until it was around the corner.
Queues formed outside the Annerley Road Centrelink after the announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday night. The line continued to grow until it was around the corner. Kieran Bicheno

"Hairdressing is not an essential service. Of course I would prefer this weren't happening at all, and calling for the sector to be shut down might seem counterproductive but it simply must happen in the interests of people's health."

Hairdressing needed to be officially added to the shutdown list because otherwise "it is incredibly difficult for our franchise owners to take the heartbreaking but necessary steps to stand down workers so they can access available support or call for breathing space on leases", he said.

"Given the steps taken in the UK and New Zealand to close salons along with other non-essential businesses and given everything the medical experts are saying, we simply cannot justify the health or financial risk to our franchise owners, stylists and clients."

Mr McFadden said he was "pleading" with the federal and state governments. "We understand that you're trying to juggle protecting livelihoods and saving lives but this decision puts both at risk for our people and clients," he said. "Please act now."

Just Cuts employs 2500 people in Australia and 3500 globally.

2h agoMarch 26, 2020Highlight

SA schools pupil free from April 4

Frank Chung

South Australian schools will also go student-free from April 4.

The week before the Easter break will be used to develop online learning materials to be able to transition to flexible learning at the start of term two.

2h agoMarch 26, 2020Highlight

Latest death was on Ruby Princess

Frank Chung

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has confirmed the 68-year-old man who died in Toowoomba yesterday afternoon was a passenger on the Ruby Princess cruise ship.

"I know there is a family grieving out there at the moment," she said.

"Unfortunately, we are going to see more of this in the days and weeks ahead. We're trying to minimise it as much as possible."

3h agoMarch 26, 2020Highlight

Online learning the way forward

Frank Chung

Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace says the student-free days next week will allow teachers to develop online learning materials.

She said there were currently two weeks' worth of content on the online learning hub and "we are preparing further weeks in advance" for virtual learning "depending on what happens obviously into the future".

"This will be a completely new manner in which we will be delivering learning to students at home," she said.


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