Australia in lockdown; virus numbers grow, hit to economy gets larger

Australia in lockdown; virus numbers grow, hit to economy gets larger

The economic costs are now expected to overwhelm the federal government’s $17.6 billion stimulus package, with plans being drawn up to deal with the financial fallout likely to hit airlines, the hospitality sector and transport systems.

The number of Australians with coronavirus reached 249 on Sunday morning, an increase of almost 50 from Saturday. Thirty-four of the cases are from people with no history of international travel while in another 64 new cases, the source of the virus is still being investigated.

Globally, the number of cases is now beyond 156,000 with almost 6000 people dead from the virus. More than 73,000 have recovered.

Following a phone conference, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he and the nation’s premiers and chief ministers had agreed to shut the country off by introducing an indefinite 14-day self-isolation requirement.

“This is very important, what we’ve seen in recent weeks, is more countries having issues with the virus and that means the source of some of those transmissions are coming from more and more countries,” Mr Morrison said.

On top of the self-isolation rule, cruise ships from international ports will also be banned from docking in Australia for an initial 30 days.

The scale of the rulings will challenge every state government. In March last year, almost 924,000 Australians returned from overseas while 770,000 people made short-term visits to the country.

Mr Morrison said visitor traffic was likely to “dry up very, very quickly” although Pacific Islanders will be allowed to transit through Australian airports on their way home.

Policing the self-isolation will also be a challenge.

The Prime Minister said people should consider reporting to authorities workmates who may have been on an overseas holiday and turned up to work.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said her state already had the necessary powers to enforce the self-isolation requirement, although she urged people to support the initiative rather than getting police involved.

People in Victoria could face fines of up to $20,000 for failing to comply with a self-isolation direction. The state government has the power to impose conditions on people, including isolation periods, and fine or even detain them for non-compliance.

The self-isolation move is on top of the ban on non-essential public gatherings of more than 500 people that will formally begin on Monday. All major sporting events and many cultural ones will either be postponed, cancelled or carried out without crowds.

Soldiers from HMAS Brisbane march during the Anzac Day parade in Brisbane last year. The government is considering measures around Anzac Day to protect people from coronavirus.Credit:AAP/Glenn Hunt

Governments are looking at specific guidelines for upcoming Anzac Day events. There may also be restrictions or special arrangements for people visiting aged care facilities and in remote communities such as those in South Australia, Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland.

Schools will remain open, with the government concerned that shutting them could put an enormous strain on the health workforce, as medical staff remain home to look after their children. There is no medical advice as yet to governments to shut down the school system, although some states are now telling their schools to stop excursions and assemblies.

Other restrictions, covering gatherings in enclosed spaces, are going to be considered by the National Cabinet of governments on Tuesday evening. This could broaden the economic impact of the self-isolation ban with concerns it may add to the scenes of panic in the nation’s shopping malls at the weekend.

A business liaison group has been created within the federal Treasury to look at the financial fallout facing the economy and particular individual companies.

The government announced its stimulus package, which includes measures to help firms with cashflow plus wage subsidies, last week. But that was before the decision to effectively shut down the international tourist market.

Royal Caribbean, one of the world’s biggest cruise companies, said on Sunday it was suspending its sailing to Australia for 30 days.

“We are reaching out to our guests to help them work through this disruption to their holidays, and we are truly sorry for the inconvenience,” it said.

Labor transport spokeswoman Catherine King said the government’s $1 billion regional and community fund, which formed part of the stimulus package, did not contain assistance for the aviation industry.


She said the drop-off in demand for air transport now facing the industry required some form of government assistance.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, in an address to the nation on Sunday evening, said the world faced its toughest health crisis in decades while urging the government to move as quickly as possible to protect Australians.

“There is now no room for delays. We want to see the government get this right, because people’s lives and jobs depend on it,” he said.

Shane is a senior economics correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Jennifer Duke is an economics correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra.

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