Clubs, pubs, sporting venues, churches, cinemas, gyms and casinos will all shut their doors at midday on Monday across the country under strict new coronavirus lockdown laws.
Restaurants and cafes will also close, but be allowed to serve takeaway, while essential services – including retail shops, offices, workplaces and schools – will remain open, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced tonight.
Schools will be required to stay open until the end of term, and continue after the holidays provided health advice does not change, however parents will be allowed to keep their children at home if they want to.
During the eleventh hour announcement following a tense national cabinet meeting with every state and territory leader, Mr Morrison lamented the possibility Australian children would lose a year of their education and said parents who chose to keep their child home must be responsible for them.
“Those children staying at home, it is not an excuse for them to go down to the shopping centre or to go and congregate somewhere else or potentially put themselves in contact with the vulnerable and elderly population,” he said.
“If you choose to keep your child at home … it is important that they observe the strict social distancing arrangements that have been advised to the public.”
The measures are considered “Stage 1,” but further restrictions have not been decided and would depend on medical advice and the spread of coronavirus in Australia.
Mr Morrison said the closure of non-essential social venues would not in any way impact the operation of supermarkets, bottle shops and other retail stores, cautioning Australians against unnecessary panic buying.
“There’s no need for that,” he said.
“We are not putting in place lockdowns that … confine (people) to their home.
“Shopping centres are not closed.”
Mr Morrison said while churches and other places of worship would be closed, indoor services for funerals would still be allowed provided the strict rule of one person per four square metres and no more than 100 people in total were followed.
Workplaces and offices must follow the same arrangements, but can remain open.
Hotels can continue to operate the accommodation part of their business, but not any licensed pub or club areas.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy said the strict new measures had been brought in partly due to the rise in coronavirus cases in Australia and also because the public had not been practising social distancing effectively.
“People have not been getting the messages and … we’ve recommended unanimously that these fairly dramatic and drastic recommendations be put in place because we have to stop those situations where viruses pass readily,” he said.
“We’ve had some events in Australia where 35 people have picked up the virus from one particular function.
“We cannot allow this sort of spread to happen.”
Prof Murphy said Australians needed to learn to “live differently”.
“We’ve seen some irresponsible behaviour from people who were told to quarantine and have not, and they have spread the virus,” he said.
“You are putting your fellow Australians at risk if you break that rule so please, every one of us has to do our bit.
“We have to save our vulnerable Australians from what could be – and we’ve seen this in other countries – fairly devastating impacts if we get a widespread pandemic in this country.”
PM WARNS AUSSIES AS LOCKDOWN LOOMS
Earlier, Mr Morrison warned schools could be closed for the “entire year” if Australians don’t co-operate with authorities to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Victorian schools are to close on Tuesday, with the state bringing forward the Easter holidays.
Other states and territories are open to the idea but have not finalised any decisions.
Mr Morrison said current medical advice was that closing schools would not be useful as it would lead to problems in securing enough doctors, nurses and other health professionals.
However, he said the states and territories could be forced to take “severe measures” if Australians continued to ignore warnings to maintain safe distances from other people, stay home from work if sick, and limit travel.
“If there is not a broad co-operation in the population … states will have to take more severe measures,” Mr Morrison told ABC TV tonight.
“(The restrictions) just won’t be for a couple of weeks. I mean kids could lose their entire year of school. That’s what’s at stake here.” Mr Morrison said in an earlier interview his family was heeding current medical advice.
“My kids will be going to school in the morning and … we will be following the medical advice,” Mr Morrison said.
“For those health workers and others, a complete closure of schools across the country would take out 30 per cent of our health workforce.
“Now, you could imagine what the health impact would be.” Mr Morrison said the evidence remained that the incidence of coronavirus among younger people was far lower than for the rest of the population. “But we will continue to consider all of these issues based on the expert advice,” he said.
“We will do that in a calm and reasoned manner … all working together and being nationally co-ordinated in our responses.” Labor leader Anthony Albanese said it was important to have a consistent approach in terms of schools, questioning whether the prime minister’s national cabinet was unified.
“One of the concerns that has been out there is the changing messages from day to day,” he said.
“If you think a decision is going to be made next week or the week after, make it today.
“Because the sooner we act, the more effective it will be.” Mr Morrison said it was naive to think there could be a one-size-fits-all approach across the states and territories.
“They need to make the decision about how much further they go … on the basis of the health advice they have and the specific situation in their state,” he said.
AFL SUSPENDED, NRL TO PLAY ON
The AFL has taken the dramatic decision to suspend its 2020 competition, with boss Gillon McLachlan saying “the AFL industry is facing its biggest financial crisis”.
But rival code the NRL is refusing to close down its season at this stage amid reports all 16 teams in the competition could be moved to Sydney – or even a tiny town in Central Queensland – to overcome lockdowns and travel bans.
At this stage, the AFL competition – which was already being played in empty stadiums – is on hold until at least May 31. But the drastic measure could well continue past that date depending on medical advice.
“To say this is the most serious crisis to hit our league in 100 years is an understatement,” AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan said in announcing the decision.
“As a community and as a code, we all need to take the unprecedented and required actions to get through this together.”
The AFL Women’s season will also be shut down and no premiership given out.
Describing the decision as “a temporary halt”, McLachlan said: “We will review the situation by the end of April to determine whether a further suspension period would be required. The May 31 resumption time will be reviewed and depending on the medical advice and government regulations in place the date could be extended out.
“The decision by various state governments to close their borders and travel bans and other measures meant it was time for the AFL to immediately stop the AFLW and AFL competitions.
“The AFL industry is facing its biggest financial crisis in our history.
“Over the next 48 hours, both the AFL and clubs will detail the drastic and immediate steps we need to take to cut costs.
“Our key priority is to do everything possible to keep players, staff and supporters healthy and well through this pandemic.”
Meanwhile, the NRL is reportedly exploring an option to relocate its entire competition to Queensland in a last-ditch bid to save the game from a $500 million wipe out and extinction.
League officials were on Sunday night locked in emergency discussions in a desperate attempt to keep the 2020 premiership alive following the AFL’s decision to suspend its season immediately amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Courier Mail.
As states around Australia ramped up lockdown guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19, the NRL was considering shifting all 16 clubs to the small Queensland town of Calliope, near Gladstone, where the 500 players and officials would live in a 1392-room purpose-built village once used as a miners’ camp.
The NRL has estimated abandoning the entire season will cost the game $500 million and almost certainly kill it.
The NRL has so far refused to bow to public pressure to shut down the competition and ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys confirmed moving to Queensland was an option, while it has also been reported the competition could be consolidated in NSW.
“The AFL have got different circumstances. They’ve got teams throughout Australia where as we’ve only got them in three states. We can continue on without too much drama,” ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys said.
“Relocation is definitely an option and we are looking at that right at the moment.
“Gladstone is the one place we could go to but there are some logistic problems to overcome before we go through with it. But certainly relocating the players is on the table.”
PM’S $189 BILLION VIRUS PLAN
Casual, self-employed and other workers who have lost income due to the coronavirus shut down will be paid at least $550 a fortnight to help them survive the next six months.
Pensioners will receive a second $750 cash hit in July, while businesses who keep on employees will get up to $100,000 to stay afloat amid the deepening economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The economic measures designed to boost Australia’s “safety net” unveiled by the federal government yesterday are expected to cost $66 billion, with plans for a third wave of spending already underway.
People suffering hardship will also be allowed to take out up to $20,000 from their superannuation across two financial years.
Anyone who has lost work because of the coronavirus crisis will be able to apply for the jobseeker allowance – which is up to about $550 a fortnight – and get an additional short-term top of $550, meaning many unemployed people will be eligible for $1100 a fortnight.
About one million Australians are expected to take up the coronavirus supplement payment, which has no waiting period and will not be asset tested.
Mr Morrison said the economic plan – announced just 10 days after the first stimulus package – brought the government’s measures to $189 billion.
“That is unprecedented in this country,” he said.
“We will be supercharging our safety net.
“We’ll be supporting the most vulnerable to the impacts of the crisis, those who will feel those first blows.”
Mr Morrison warned the government’s two rescue packages – totalling about ten per cent of Australia’s GDP – would not be the last.
“There will be more issues that even now have not presented themselves or could not even be conceived at this point with what we may face over the next six months,” he said.
“We will be working night and day to ensure we bring forward the measures Australia needs to get them on this bridge to the recovery on the other side.”
Mr Morrison said people who qualified for the coronavirus supplement through the jobseeker allowance would also gain access to “normal” benefit payments including rental assistance, family tax benefits and the pharmaceutical allowance.
The prime minister said Australians’ compliance with social distancing rules, such as stopping unnecessary travel, staying 1.5m away from others and avoiding crowds directly impacted the government’s ability to keep the country running.
“People cannot be cavalier about these things,” he said.
“They must take them extremely seriously because lives and livelihoods are at stake.
“But the more social distancing we do, the less severe the economic impacts have to be.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said from July 13 everyone on income support who is not eligible for the coronavirus supplement will get an extra $750 in cash, which is on top of the $750 due to hit welfare recipients’ bank accounts from the end of March.
“This includes those receiving the age pension, a carers allowance, family tax benefit and
the Commonwealth senior card. 5.2 million Australians in total,” he said.
Mr Frydenberg said Australians in financial stress will also be able to access more of their money in superannuation.
“From April, those affected will gain access to that superannuation, capped at $10,000 this financial year and a further $10,000 next financial year,” he said.
Mr Frydenberg said the government would also give retirees more “flexibility” to manage their super by halving the required drawdown amount.
The government has lowered deeming rates in line with the Reserve Bank’s emergency rates cut, which is expected to help up to 900,000 pensioners.
The government’s package for small and medium businesses also includes a cash injection of at least $20,000 up to a possible $100,000, which will also apply to not for profit organisations with a turnover of less than $50 million.
“This will be a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of employers, like the local hairdresser, the local coffee shop, the local mechanic whose income has been significantly reduced over this difficult period,” Mr Frydenberg said.
The Commonwealth is also offering to guarantee unsecured loans of up to $250,000 for three years to encourage reluctant companies to borrow.
The government will also provide relief to directors of corporations for personal liability when the company is trading while insolvent.
Mr Frydenberg said the global and domestic economic environment had seriously deteriorated in the short time since the government’s first stimulus package.
“We now expect the economic shock to be deeper, wider and longer,” he said.
“Every arm of government and industry is working to keep Australians in jobs and businesses in business and to build a bridge to recovery on the other side.”
Labor’s treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers said the opposition was concerned the response “lacks urgency” and did not go far enough to protect jobs, but would work with the government to get the legislation through parliament.
“Every Australian needs the Government to get this right, which means getting the original stimulus and today’s additional measures out the door as soon as possible, and urgently closing the gaps identified by Labor and others,” he said.
A special reduced federal parliament of just 90 MPs will sit today (MON) to pass the emergency measures and ensure cash can flow to recipients as soon as possible.
It is hoped this could be completed within two days, but the prime minister has conceded the parliament may not be able to convene to pass future economic measures.
“We have to be conscious of the fact that because of the spread of the virus, it may not be physically possible to convene the parliament over the next six months,” Mr Morrison said.
“So the plan is to move to a much more emergency mode operation for the parliament, but … ensuring that any of the measures that are taken to support Australians are done so consistent with our parliamentary democracy.”