Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned Australians to expect further restrictions and intrusions into their daily lives as the government took further steps to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
From midnight all people coming to Australia will have to self-isolate for 14 days, while cruise ships will be banned from arriving at Australian ports for an initial 30 days.
While schools will remain open, “social distancing” will be increased and aged care facilities are under review.
The states will also be considering their own public health emergency status.
“We’re going to have to get used some or more changes over the next six months or so,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney on Sunday after a phone hook-up with state and territory leaders under a new national cabinet.
“There will be further intrusions, further restrictions on people’s movement and their behaviour.”
He said there was a wide discussion about school closures, but the advice is that it would have a negative impact on tackling COVID-19.
This is because taking children out of school would expose them to the broader community and at the same time risks disrupting the availability of critical health workers as they look after their children.
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The government is clarifying its legal position when it comes to police powers, including whether fines can be handed to individuals who flout self-isolation requirements.
The states have reportedly backed the changes, according to The Australian, who would be responsible for penalties which could range from 12 months’ jail, to fines of up to $50,000.
The Council of Australian Governments on Friday heeded expert advice that all non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people in Australia should be cancelled from Monday.
Major events including the Melbourne Grand Prix, Sydney’s Easter Show and Vivid light festival have been canned.
Sunday’s meeting came as the number of virus cases rose above 300 in Australia, with the death toll remaining at three.
More than 150,000 people have been infected with COVID-19 worldwide, with more than 5600 deaths.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said things are changing on a daily basis.
“What is different about Australia … we are not yet in winter,” Professor Kelly told reporters.
“All of the places we are seeing this virus really escalate quickly now, to other parts of the world, are in the Northern Hemisphere. They are in the latter part of their winter months.”
On “social distancing”, Mr Morrison explained there will be no more handshakes when he meets his cabinet colleagues and as a precautionary step, the cabinet will be meeting more regularly by video-conferencing.
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On parliament itself, the prime minister said he is working on arrangements with the Speaker in the House of Representatives and the president of the Senate. “We have important work to do when parliament resumes on Monday week and will focus on that,” he said.
Australians are being urged to play their part to help stem the spread of the coronavirus as part of a national campaign.
A letter from Mr Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy ran in newspapers across the country on Sunday, along with the latest information on COVID-19.
It urges people to wash their hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, and dispose of tissues, and avoid contact with others if they’re feeling unwell.
“Containing the spread of an infection like COVID-19 comes down to every Australian playing their part by looking after their own hygiene, looking out for each other, and staying informed,” the letter reads.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews urged people not to stockpile, saying if people go out and buy two months of goods rather than two weeks, the shelves will soon be empty, “The only people who suffer then are vulnerable people who might not have got to the shops or can’t go to four different supermarkets to get the basics they need,” he told reporters in Melbourne.