26 March 2020

No draconian lockdown yet, but PM bans travel and increases social distancing

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Brendan Murphy

Australia’s Chief Health Officer, Brendan Murphy, says he is very concerned by the rapid rise in COVID-19 diagnoses. Photo: RACGP.

“We need to keep Australia running” – but social distancing measures must increase substantially, the Prime Minister has told a briefing following this evening’s National Cabinet meeting.

It appears that there’s still contention over how schools will operate, but multiple activities including real estate open houses and auctions, health clubs and classes and beauty services will be banned from operating.

Weddings can take place with only the couple, celebrant and witnesses present and funerals are restricted to ten participants.

The former hard directive regarding travel is now a ban under the biosecurity powers after the Prime Minister said he was “disappointed” that a small number of Australians continue to travel overseas for non-essential reasons.

Describing widespread business closures as “heartbreaking events in our nation”s history”, Mr Morrison said, “I want to assure all Australians that as the National and Federal cabinets meet, and State governments, we are not unconscious of the real impacts these measures are having on daily lives of Australians”.

But he rejected calls for a more draconian lockdown, saying “Be careful what we wish for. That would need to be sustained for a very long time and have a very significant and even more onerous impact on life in Australia”

Mr Morrison described a unified decision-making process despite acknowledging that not all states and territories are at the same stage of contagion.

The new orders largely expand on existing measures and will apply from midnight, March 25.

Takeaway food provision can continue from cafes, while food courts must cease operating (although they can still provide takeaways) and auctions, house inspections and open houses are banned.

Outdoor and indoor markets (excluding food markets, which are classed as an essential service) will be addressed by states and territories under their own legislation.

Beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, tattoos, spa and massages, with the exception of health-related services like physiotherapy, must cease. Hairdressers and barbers can continue to operate but within a 30 minute limit for each customer.

In addition to restrictions on cinemas, concerts and stadiums, amusement parks and arcades are now banned from operation as are play centres, health clubs, fitness centres, barre and yoga classes, saunas and bathhouses. However, boot camps and personal training can continue if limited to ten people and with appropriate social distancing measures.

Galleries, museums, youth centres, libraries, pools, community halls, clubs and places of worship should also close their doors.

“Stay at home unless it’s necessary that you go out. Go out for the basics or medical need only”, Mr Morrison said. “Do not congregate together in groups”.

Mr Morrison remains firm that schools are safe and that it’s necessary for them to remain open, but it’s clear that negotiations between stakeholders are continuing.

Expressing concerns over the impacts on children’s education if schools closed, the Prime Minister said he would “discuss a set of arrangements we would like to proceed with that keeps schools open, that will also protect those teachers and other staff working in schools” in the following days.

He said schools should re-open after the forthcoming term break to enable people without other options to continue sending their children. “For all those workers who need to send children to school, that’s why schools remain open”, the Prime Minister said. “Everyone who has a job in this economy is an essential worker.

“Everyone who has one needs to be able to keep doing their job. That means they will need to keep sending their children to school for an education”.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan Murphy told the briefing that “We are very worried about the rate of rise in infections. It is a very steep growth and very concerning”.

He said much of the growth in Australian COVID-19 diagnoses was still driven by returning travellers and therefore putting the community at risk by failing to observe quarantine would not be tolerated.

“Don’t go anywhere on your way home. If you are identified as a contact, you must isolate. You must not go to the chemist when you’ve been told you have the disease. If you are isolating you go home and obey those rules”, he said.

While Dr Murphy said there was still no evidence of widespread community transmission, he added that there are undoubtedly hot spots requiring restrictive measures.

The National Cabinet meets again tomorrow.

Original Article published by Genevieve Jacobs on The RiotACT.

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