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St Kilda and other popular Melbourne beaches will be shut after scores of people flocked to the bay in spite of tightened coronavirus restrictions.
The Herald Sun understands that Port Phillip Mayor Brenadene Voss is expected to make the announcement.
The mass closures come after St Kilda beach was packed with “selfish” beach goers despite strict advice people stay home and socially distance.
Hundreds of people were lying along the beach on Friday afternoon, some in groups of 10-15.
Premier Daniel Andrews earlier threatened to close beaches if people continue to flout social distancing rules and risk lives.
“No-one has to go to the beach,” Mr Andrews said.
“I have close the pubs, because no-one has to go to the pubs. If I have to close the beaches, I will.”
By the late afternoon, teams of police were swarming St Kilda beach and asking people to move on.
The beach was almost entirely vacated within 20 minutes of police arriving.
Members of the dedicated 500-strong coronavirus squad are also set to patrol beaches in the days to come.
Before the closure came into effect, Swedish tourist Amanda Ottosson, 21, spent Friday afternoon at the beach with her three friends.
She told the Herald Sun they all feel well so should be able to go to the beach as long as they keep away from others.
“If hairdressers and cafes stay open (takeaway), why should the beaches shut down? People are way closer in those places,” she said.
Ms Ottoson said she would not hesitate to return to the beach on Saturday, despite government warnings.
French tourist Marine Thimonier, 23, was not happy with the decision.
“Our plan this weekend was to go to the beach and enjoy it but now we will stay at home,” she said.
“I think it is better the beaches stay open but with restrictions, like you can’t be in groups of more than five people. It should be okay if it is just two of you.”
German tourists Jenika Monig and Chiara Wehner, aged 21 and 19, said the beach was their “only escape” from boredom given the shutdown of most sites.
The pair, who are jobless and struggling to find a flight home, were disappointed but understood the need for the closure.
“I understand that it will help reduce the risk of infecting people but Saturday will be warm weather and I am sad because I wanted to go to the beach because we can’t do anything else at the moment,” said Ms Monig.
The beach was almost entirely vacated within 20 minutes of police arriving.
Few are walking along the boardwalk but not gathered in groups.
Leo, 62, said he was shocked to see so many groups on the beach and supported the decision to close it.
“People are not getting what is going on. They need to see what is happening in Italy and America,” he said.
“They think I am young and okay — they don’t get it.
“It is most probably right that they close the beach.”
Victoria Police Commander David Clayton earlier blasted beach goers as “selfish” and warned they risk fines of up to $20,000.
“There is no excuse if people are deliberately flouting these restrictions — they need to be treated with the utmost seriousness and we cannot afford for people to be selfish,” he said.
“People who ignore the restrictions are placing others at significant risk, which means more people, including potentially their family, friends and others in the community, will become infected.”
The decision to move people off St Kilda or other beaches lies with Victoria Police command.
Last week Sydney’s popular Bondi Beach was closed to the public after hundreds defied advice and gathered in large crowds.
Mr Andrews said: “No-one should be at the beach and, if I have to take to prevent people from going to the beach, I will.
“I hope it doesn;t get to that.
“You don’t need to be at the beach.
“If you choose to be at the beach, then that is a choice that may cost someone their life.”
ALFRED PARTIALLY CLOSED AFTER PATIENTS’ CORONAVIRUS DEATHS
Part of the Alfred Hospital has been closed after the deaths of two cancer patients who contracted coronavirus.
Another two blood cancer patients who tested positive to COVID-19 while being treated in the hospital’s haematology and oncology ward remain isolated and are in a stable condition.
Three staff members from the inpatient ward have also been confirmed to have COVID-19 and are now in self-isolation at their homes.
Others who had contact with the patients have been notified of and have been placed in self isolation.
Both of the elderly blood cancer patients were included in the announcements of Victoria’s first coronavirus deaths announced yesterday.
Alfred Health chief executive Prof Andrew Way said the situation was distressing for the staff, patients and families involved.
Prof Way said the source of the infection is still unknown, though a full investigation is underway including contact tracing to identify the cluster.
Access to ward has also been limited.
“It is important that we complete the contact tracing to truly understand what has happened, and I appreciate how upsetting this is for everyone involved,” Prof Way said.
“This situation highlights how devastating the virus can be for vulnerable patients. I urge the community to follow health advice and to self-isolate if they’re unwell. We need to act now to protect those at risk in our community.”
Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said an investigation is underway to determine the source of coronavirus transmission.
“My thoughts are with the families at this sad time and my heart goes out to them, as well as the staff at the Alfred Hospital,” Ms Mikakos said.
“This is a reminder of just how dangerous this virus can be for vulnerable patients and the risks our hard-working health staff take every day during this pandemic.
“I urge all Victorians to do their part to protect the lives of others – if you can stay home, you must stay home.”
– Grant McArthur
CORONAVIRUS HOTELS TO OPEN FOR RETURNED TRAVELLERS
Thousands of Victorians returning from overseas from midnight on Saturday will be forced to spend two weeks holed up in hotels in a radical bid to prevent the importation of more coronavirus cases.
Defence Force personnel will also be deployed to help Victoria Police carry out compliance checks on travellers who have already returned and are now required to self-isolate in their own homes for 14 days.
Under the strict new regime, anyone arriving from overseas after Saturday will be taken directly from Melbourne Airport to secure accommodation.
The state government has locked in 5000 hotel beds, with motels, caravan parks and student accommodation also to be used as efforts are made to keep people close to their homes.
About 85 per cent of coronavirus cases in Australia have been linked to returned travellers.
“It is a big step to take away someone’s liberty and make them go to a certain place and stay there for two weeks, but this is life and death,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.
“It almost doesn’t matter what country they’re coming from, this is running so wildly rampant in a number of other countries that if you’ve been in international airports, if you’re coming back from anywhere really, you are an unacceptable risk if we just let you go about your business.”
Returning travellers will not be required to pay for their hotel stays, and Defence Force members will assist with the logistics, providing food hampers to those in quarantine.
International travel has dramatically reduced since tough restrictions were put in place, but 2022 people flew into Melbourne on 22 international flights on Wednesday, and another 16 flights landed on Thursday.
Many of those travellers have been using airport buses and public transport to return home, and Melbourne Airport relocated staff carparks to thin out bus passenger numbers and support social distancing.
Mr Andrews said between 1300 and 2000 people were flying in every day, a number he expected to drop off soon.
“We have sufficient capacity and we have done the work early to be able to accommodate those people,” he said.
Mr Andrews said the government was working with the Australian Hotels Association on the regime, which would also support hospitality workers whose jobs were currently at risk.
Travellers landing in Melbourne who intend to continue on to another state will be required to go into quarantine in Melbourne first.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who announced the extraordinary move after yesterday’s national cabinet meeting, said there would be penalties for returning travellers who did not comply with the rules.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said: “The single most important thing we can do is completely stop the capacity for any returning traveller transmitting the virus.”
He said long-term social distancing measures were also crucial as health experts worried about community transmission of the virus.
“At the moment, we are doing a very good job,” Professor Murphy said.
“We can’t have anyone breaking the rules, being stupid, being cavalier and not taking this seriously.”
Victoria Police has a 500-strong taskforce working on spot checks of travellers who have already returned, which Mr Andrews said would be bolstered by the assistance of the Defence Force.
“That will mean more of those police … will be able to get to even more homes where people are supposed to be quarantining,” he said.
“So, if you are doing the wrong thing, you will be caught.”
– Tom Minear
HOLIDAY HOUSES A NO-GO OVER EASTER
It comes as Victorians have been warned not to visit coastal towns including along the Great Ocean Road in the Easter school holidays due to coronavirus.
Victorian Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson said failing to do so could lead to the closure of the famous tourist road and beaches.
“I have raised my concerns with the Federal Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham,” she said.
“We cannot risk a repeat of what happened on Bondi Beach in our own backyard.”
“After being such a champion of the Great Ocean Road visitor economy over so many years, it is so difficult to tell people to stay at home. But we have to take these very tough decisions to save lives.”
The school holidays officially start tomorrow.
With the City of Greater Geelong and Surf Coast Shire announcing the closure of all of their parks, reserves, skate parks, golf courses, tennis courts and caravan parks (subject to exceptions). Senator Henderson said much of the Surf Coast and Bellarine was already closed for business.
Many surf lifesaving clubs have also stopped or limited beach patrols.
Senator Henderson said the last thing that Victorian coastal communities needed was an outbreak of COVID-19.
“Towns such as Lorne and Anglesea have a high proportion of older residents; we simply cannot afford to put anyone at risk,” she said.
“This holidays, whether it’s playing monopoly with the kids, painting the house or cleaning up the garden, we need to find things to do at home.”
City of Greater Geelong also announced it has decided to close the grassy reserve around Eastern Beach and the children’s pool, as it tents to attract crowds on warm days.
The ocean pool and beach itself remain open but fewer than ten people are allowed at one time.
MORE CORONAVIRUS NEWS:
COUNCIL GOES VIRTUAL AMID SOCIAL DISTANCING
A local council will defy the state government and hold “virtual” meetings due to coronavirus.
Macedon Ranges Shire will test a requirement that council meetings must be held face-to-face under state laws.
Many councils are cancelling meetings amid fears the virus will spread.
NSW has changed its legislation to allow for online meetings.
Macedon Ranges councillors have voted to direct their CEO to introduce virtual meeting
arrangements for future council meetings “while a state of emergency is in place due to the coronavirus pandemic”.
They also cancelled a committee meeting and ordinary council meeting scheduled for April.
Opposition local government spokesman Tim Smith said Victoria should follow NSW’s lead and allow electronic meetings.
“We believe that there is an important role for councils during these uncertain times and they should be able to meet and make the necessary decisions for their communities remotely during the restrictions put in place due to COVID-19,” he said.
An Andrews Government spokeswoman said: “We’re working with councils to consider the implications of coronavirus on their operations including the welfare of staff, compliance with the Act, elections and their meeting.”
POWER COMPANIES BANNED FROM DISCONNECTING HOMES, BUSINESSES
Energy retailers will be restricted from disconnecting households and businesses which can’t pay their bills during the coronavirus crisis.
The Australian Energy Regulator will be strictly policing a new statement of expectations, which also requires electricity and gas companies to offer payment plans and hardship arrangements to customers in financial stress.
Retailers are required not to disconnect customers before July 31 and “potentially beyond”, and to defer any debt recovery action as well.
“The electricity and gas sector, as an essential service, has an obligation to support customers through these difficult times,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.
“The government is focused on working to slow the spread of the virus, while putting in place actions to limit the impact of COVID-19 on people’s lives, jobs and businesses – and industry must play their role.”
Energy Minister Angus Taylor added: “While several energy companies have taken some steps to assist their customers in financial stress, during these difficult times we expect more action.”
The new arrangements are part of the federal government’s plan to help businesses “hibernate” during the crisis.
TRAVELLERS HIT WITH NEW VIRUS SELF-ISOLATION
Australians returning from overseas from midnight tomorrow will be quarantined in hotels and other accommodation facilities to enforce the 14-day self-isolation period.
With some travellers still making their way home from other countries, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the measure was crucial to prevent further spread of the virus from overseas.
The national cabinet agreed this afternoon on the extraordinary measure, which will be policed by state governments.
Defence Force members will also be deployed to assist in new regime.
Mr Morrison said the country was in “two fights” – the health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus.
“Both will take lives. Both will take livelihoods,” he said.
SHOPPING CENTRES ACCUSED OF ‘PLAYING ROULETTE’ WITH LIVES
Premier Investments has sensationally accused the owner of Westfield shopping malls in Australia of failing to take any action after being informed retail staff were exposed to COVID-19 in one of their centres.
Premier chief executive Mark McInnes has also accused major shopping mall owners of playing “roulette” with the lives of retail employees and customers, slamming them for not shutting their centres.
“COVID-19 is a deadly virus and it is unacceptable for landlords to play roulette with the lives of retail employees and customers by not doing everything they can to protect them,” Mr McInnes said today.
TOP JUDGE JOINS PUSH TO FREE PRISONERS
One of Victoria’s top judges has joined a push to release some prisoners from custody amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Supreme Court Justice Lex Lasry said Corrections and the Andrews government would need to consider such a move if the virus spreads into the prison system.
“Once that occurs … it is overwhelmingly likely that the prisons will be locked down in a way that will make time in custody very difficult for all prisoners,” Justice Lasry said.
“In my opinion, it is going to be necessary to recalibrate the status of those in custody to determine who should be retained in custody and whether any others should be released.”
He made the remarks as he freed another accused drug trafficker on bail due to COVID-19 causing unprecedented delays in Victoria’s justice system.
‘COWBOY’ TRADIES DEFY SOCIAL DISTANCING RULES
Tradies are increasingly reporting anxiety that the coronavirus could be spreading through Melbourne building sites undetected with some workers not obeying social distancing rules and even holding knock-off beers.
Workers told the Herald Sun some smaller operators were not heeding the message about social distancing with tradies working closely in confined spaces, sharing tools, not using sanitisation measures and even some people having beers after work.
It comes after the 1.5m distancing rule had been announced by the Federal Government, but so far the construction has not been restricted for fear it could lead to an industry collapse, impacting hundreds of thousands of households.
This week a Melbourne construction worker tested positive after returning from a trip to England and began showing symptoms.
The man from a subcontractor working for Kane Constructions had been on the Melbourne University “New Student Precinct” site.
Previously the CFMEU Victorian branch has warned against an industry shutdown, but has urged tradesmen to take precautions.
“Every effort must be made by industry employers to upgrade personal hygiene and minimise person to person contact and all workers must co-operate in all necessary measures to achieve these objectives.”
It is understood the majority of sites are compliant but some “cowboys” were remaining defiant.
In a joint statement, earlier this month CFMEU National Construction Division Secretary Dave Noonan and CEO of the Master Builders of Australia Denita Wawn warned the impacts of the virus could be dire if the industry is restricted
“The construction industry is a linchpin of the Australian economy,” it said.
“The industry provides more full-time jobs than any other sector of the economy and is made up of 395,000 businesses – 388,800 of which are SMEs.
“If coronavirus forces the shutdown of the industry it will have a devastating impact on the economy generally and upon the lives of construction workers and business operators and all their families.”
Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan has previously flagged construction would continue where possible with precautions put in place.
It is understood work is underway at major infrastructure sites such as the Level Crossing Removal Projects to continue work in the event of further lockdowns.
This includes issuing all staff with their own radios, gloves, hand sanitiser, staggered start times and taking smoko breaks outside away from other workers.
Workers who declined to be identified by the Herald Sun questioned why restrictions on weddings and funerals were in place but not on job sites.
“There is often dozens of workers onsite at any given time working in close quarters for more than 8 hours a day,” one said.
Another warned younger workers were not taking the spread seriously and still socialising after work.
COMMUNITY TRANSMISSION CASES SPIKE
Another 54 coronavirus cases have been identified in Victoria overnight, taking the state’s total to 574.
The state government’s tracker shows there are now 16 cases of community transmission – an alarming spike from nine yesterday.
Authorities are still investigating the source of another 32 cases.
It comes as viral clusters form in Melbourne’s most affluent areas.
MASS AFTER-SCHOOL CARE CLOSURES, JOB LOSSES
Major Outside School Hours Care providers have decided to shut their doors over the coronavirus crisis, putting thousand of workers out of a job and leaving even more children without care.
Childcare workers have today been stood down as 30 per cent of the nation’s Outside School Hours Care market decided to shut.
Attendance at some OSHC centres have plummeted — some with no children coming at all — amid health warnings over COVID-19.
Five service providers including Junior Adventures Group, TeamKids, Camp Australia, TheirCare and the YMCA, have started closing services in Victoria.
The closures are expected to escalate over the next few days nationwide.
SALVOS CAFE FOR VULNERABLE FORCED TO LIMIT NUMBERS
The Salvation Army’s busy CBD night cafe has had to limit numbers due to social distancing rules.
The Bourke St cafe usually houses about 150 homeless people a night, but only 50 are allowed to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Salvos Project 614 boss Major Brendan Nottle said the welfare operation was still running due to an exemption from health authorities organised by Deputy Lord Mayor Arron Wood.
“Due to other options being taken up, we’re not getting a lot more than 50 turning up, and we’re providing toasted sandwiches and coffee through the servery window overnight,” he said.
Maj Nottle said that local cafes, businesses and even State Parliament were providing the cafe with much needed food and drink for society’s vulnerable.
NATIONAL CABINET WORKS ON RELIEF FOR SMALL BUSINESSES
Small businesses forced to shut their doors for months could be protected from eviction and relieved of rent payments to help them make it to the other side of the coronavirus crisis.
The national coronavirus cabinet, which meets again on Friday, is developing radical support measures to enable businesses starved of revenue to effectively hibernate while the country is locked down.
Help for residential tenants is also in the works, with the states considering laws to ensure vulnerable renters can stay in their homes without rental increases.
As non-essential retail stores brace for a shutdown order in Victoria, expected within days, governments are investigating ways to reduce or waive lease payments for commercial tenants who are no longer allowed to operate. Relief for landlords would also be required — perhaps through land tax or council rate discounts — while Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has engaged the big banks for further assistance.
After unveiling a $17.6 billion economic stimulus boost and a $66 billion support package, the federal government is now urgently working on a “hibernation” strategy for parts of the economy.
A key focus is understood to be measures which stop shuttered businesses racking up massive debts and liabilities so that they are in a position to reopen at the end of the crisis.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has repeatedly spoken about building a “bridge to recovery” for businesses, with workers who are laid off during the crisis supported by welfare payments has doubled with a fortnightly $550 supplement.
“On the other side, we want businesses to be able to open their doors and get on back about their business, employ their staff back, see their customers again and to support them in the recovery,” Mr Morrison said this week.
W.B. Simpson and Son director Richard Simpson said he was already dealing with “dozens” of requests for commercial rent reductions, mostly from retailers, cafes and restaurants.
“Landlords are being pretty understanding with tenants and giving rent abatements for about three months and then reassessing. Most are not having to give up all their rental income, but usually reduce it by about 30 per cent,” he said.
REA Group chief economist Nerida Conisbee said the banks had been accommodating with mortgage payments so far.
The Herald Sun has been told a limited session of state parliament is expected next week to pass much-needed supply Bills after the Budget was delayed. It could also be required to consider amendments to state tenancy laws.
SHOPPERS STILL HEADING TO CHADSTONE AMID VIRUS CRISIS
Social distancing recommendations have forced the closure of most shops, but some stores are still open at Chadstone, with some shoppers saying boredom is driving them to the hugely popular shopping centre.
CONSTRUCTION WORKERS BACK ON JOB
A Melbourne construction site has reopened after it shut when a worker tested positive for coronavirus.
The tradesman was diagnosed after he started feeling unwell shortly after returning to work following a trip overseas.
It’s understood that the worker returned to Australia before the government introduced mandatory 14 day self-isolation for everyone coming into the country.
The site was immediately shut down after the diagnosis but has since reopened after being sanitised.
In a statement released by the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), the site shut down and all staff working on the site were contacted immediately after the diagnosis.
“Upon feeling unwell, he did not return to work and was tested the following day,” the CFMEU statement read.
“After receiving a positive result of COVID-19, he contacted his employer who immediately shut down the site, contacting the DHHS and the CFMEU.”
Those who were in close contact with the worker have gone into self isolation.
None of the employees placed in self isolation have shown any symptoms of the virus yet.
Work has since resumed on the site after being cleaned to “hospital grade” standards.
“All necessary procedures to ensure the health and safety of site workers were implemented,
including the employment of a hospital-grade, specialist cleaning company to perform a thorough on-site decontamination,” the CFMEU statement read.
The worker arrived back in Australia before March 16, when the federal government’s self-isolation mandatory order on all travellers coming into the country came into effect.
In the wake of the diagnosis, Master Builders Victoria issued its members with updated safety guidelines on working on construction sites on Thursday, include stricter social distancing regulations.
In a newsletter, the union told members to “step up” and adhere to the strict regulations.
“Whether you are an employer or a worker, you are responsible for the health of those around you. Please don’t let your behaviour be the catalyst for an industry shut down,” the union stated.
MAN LINKED TO INFECTED ASPEN JETSETTERS FIGHTING FOR LIFE
Victorian health authorities are closely monitoring what is being called a Colorado ski trip cluster after a man became seriously ill with COVID-19 after mixing with a group of Melbourne jetsetters.
US CASES SURPASS CHINA’S
America has reached a grim milestone as the number of deaths linked to coronavirus passed 1000 in the country on Thursday (local time).
The number of reported deaths associated with the disease in the US was at least 1050 as of Thursday morning, according to NBC News, and there have been more than 68,000 reported cases across the nation. Globally, reported deaths passed 21,000, according to Johns Hopkins University in the US.
It comes as global cases passed 500,000 and China closed its borders to foreign nationals to prevent a resurgence of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, according to a report.
US SHARES BUOYED BY STIMULUS
Wall Street stocks opened higher following Senate passage of a massive stimulus bill as the government reported an unprecedented record in US jobless claims.
About 25 minutes into trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was at 21,763.45, up 2.7 per cent.
The broadbased S & P 500 also gained 2.7 per cent to 2541.75, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 2.2 per cent to 7549.78.
LAST RESORT FOR RACV
The RACV is closing its eight resorts and two clubs from midnight in response to the coronavirus crisis.
The closure will affect the City Club in Bourke St, the Healesville Country Club and resorts in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, RACV chief executive Neil Taylor said.
“This is something I would never have imagined and whilst this will be of little comfort today to the many staff affected, we intend to come back to strength quickly when this crisis is over,” he said.
“We are looking at a range of measures to help employees who are impacted by this announcement, including the potential to provide alternative work during this time.”
Counselling support was also being provided to all RACV employees and their families.
RACV’s insurance and roadside operations are not affected.
PLEA TO KEEP CABINS AVAILABLE
Australia’s biggest caravan park operator has appealed to Premier Daniel Andrews for exemptions to the latest restrictions so self-contained cabins can be used for quarantine accommodation.
Grant Wilckens, chief executive of Discovery Parks, which also runs Top Parks, said cabins provided better self-isolation accommodation than hotels and motels, which continued to operate.
“There are 370 caravan parks in Victoria, predominantly in regional centres, providing accommodation to those displaced due to border closures, homes to low-income earners, and accommodation to essential workers,’’ he said.
The latest state government ruling declared only permanent residents could stay.
But the move, Mr Wilckens said, put residents’ homes at risk because caravan parks might go broke.
While the industry agreed with the closure of campgrounds and shared bathrooms and toilets, cabins had independent bathrooms, kitchens and airconditioning.
“This form of accommodation is more suited to current COVID-19 precautions than hotels and serviced apartments,’’ Mr Wilckens said.
— With additional reporting by Ian Royall and Sharon McGowan