March 16, 2020 22:05:13
WA Premier Mark McGowan has announced all household fees and charges — including electricity, water and vehicle registration — will be frozen as part of a major economic relief package to tackle the COVID-19 emergency, as the state reports a dramatic spike in new cases.
The WA stimulus package targets households and businessesFees and charges will remain unchanged until at least July 202110 new cases confirmed in WA today bring the state’s total to 28
Mr McGowan said 10 new cases of coronavirus had been confirmed since Sunday, but none of these were believed to be from person-to-person transmission in WA.
It was the biggest one-day jump in cases and brought the total number of diagnosed cases in the state from 18 to 28, including one death.
He said the new cases all resided in the Perth metropolitan area.
“The advice I have is it’s not community spread at this time,” Mr McGowan said.
Nine of the cases originated from overseas but the origin of one case was unknown.
One patient has been admitted to hospital in a serious but stable condition.
One of the cases reported recently returned from Hawaii, while three of the cases are healthcare workers.
There have been 5,878 negative tests conducted in WA to date.
Stimulus package targets households, pensioners
The stimulus package announced today by the WA Government will be worth a total of $607 million.
It will mean electricity, water, motor vehicle charges, the emergency services levy and public transport fares in the state will not increase until at least July 2021, at a cost to the Government of $402 million.
“For the first time in 16 years all household fees and charges will be frozen, providing relief and certainty to each and every West Australian,” Mr McGowan said.
“Previously the budget included an increase of $127 or 2 per cent in fees and charges, which was the estimated inflation rate for 2020–21.
“By keeping everything frozen that will cost the budget $402 million.”
Additionally, the Energy Assistance Payment — a rebate given to concession card holders — will be doubled to $600 to help seniors in particular.
An estimated 300,000 households who access the assistance payments across WA will receive a $300 credit immediately on their bill from July 1.
WA Treasurer Ben Wyatt said this may mean they would not have to pay a power bill for the first four months of the 2020-21 financial year.
Small, medium business boost
The Premier said another $114 million would be spent on measures to help small and medium-sized business.
Mr McGowan said 7,400 businesses with a payroll between $1 million to $4 million would benefit from the grants.
The State Government would also “fast-track” its payroll tax relief for small businesses by six months.
“Following on from the payroll tax cut we introduced last January, the next round of payroll tax cuts will be brought forward by six months to July 1,” Mr McGowan said.
“Businesses impacted by the coronavirus will also be able to defer payroll tax payments until at least July 21, 2020.”
Some 11,000 West Australian businesses are expected to benefit from the measures.
“It’s this relief and certainty that can help give West Australians the confidence to continue to spend and support our local economy,” Mr McGowan said.
In a separate measure, eligible businesses will also receive a one-off grant of $17,500.
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The Government will also alter trading hours so metropolitan supermarkets will be allowed to open from 7:00am on weekdays, to allow the most vulnerable members of the community to shop.
“That hour will be dedicated to the elderly, to the vulnerable and to the disabled,” Mr McGowan explained.
“Only those customers will be able to go in.”
WA in a ‘state of emergency’
Mr McGowan said the measures would provide relief to West Australian families, seniors and business owners.
“These are extraordinary times that require extraordinary measures,” he said.
“We are in a state of emergency in Australia.
“We not only need to deal with the health consequences of the coronavirus, but we also need to deal with the economic impacts as well.
“As a responsible Government we must respond and we must provide certainty to both businesses and to households.”
The WA Government will also provide 20 days of paid COVID-19 leave for state public sector workers, including casual workers.
It will include cover anyone who has contracted COVID-19, anyone who needs to care for someone with the virus or who is required to self-isolate, or who cannot access schools or other care arrangements.
Mr McGowan said it was important for people to try to continue their normal routines
“I’d urge all West Australians, despite the fact I know people are nervous, to go about their business as normal and support our local businesses,” he said.
“It’s going to go for a long time.
“I don’t know if it will be a year or two years, I don’t know if it will be six months, but it’s going to be a long time.
“I think we need to brace ourselves for a long-term impact on both the health system and the state’s economy.”
New regime for sick healthcare workers
WA Health Minister Roger Cook said the 10 people who tested positive today ranged in age from their 20s to their 70s.
He said the three affected healthcare workers were not from general practice settings.
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“Contract tracing is now in process not only in relation to those particular patients’ movements, but also their work colleagues and the people that they’ve been treating in that healthcare setting,” he said.
Mr Cook also announced new protocols for the testing of healthcare workers for COVID-19.
Any healthcare worker with a fever over 37.5 degrees Celsius and an acute respiratory illness will be treated as a suspect case.
“The [Health] Department will arrange for specific clinics for the healthcare workers to make sure that they can get tested in an appropriate setting,” Mr Cook said.
He said WA’s first regional COVID clinic was being set up at Bunbury Hospital and would open later this week.
Mass drink driving tests suspended, university lectures go online
WA Police announced tonight they would be suspending high-volume random breath testing on WA roads.
“This decision has been made to minimise the risk to officers and the community,” a statement from WA police said.
“High-visibility mobile traffic patrols targeting driver behaviour, including breath and drug testing, will be undertaken as part of our continued commitment to road safety.
“These dedicated traffic patrols will be undertaken throughout the state and reinforce our message that you may be stopped anywhere and at any time.”
Meanwhile, Curtin University has announced it will have all lectures available online by the end of the week.
It is also finalising plans to move to online or alternate modes of delivery of tutorials, laboratories and workshops, where it is feasible, a statement said.
The university will also cancel all public events on campus “for the foreseeable future”.
The University of Western Australia has also cancelled public events on campus for the next month.
A statement from the vice chancellor said attendance requirements for many units had been suspended.
Taxi shortage fears and traveller confusion
Several international flights landed at Perth Airport today, with passengers told they had to self-isolate for 14 days or face potential fines of up to $50,000.
There was some confusion about how people were supposed to get home from the airport and whether they could interact with family members.
Most took taxis or rideshare services, but the taxi ranks were being serviced by far fewer cars than usual.
The drivers said their colleagues were either afraid they would get infected or were working elsewhere because the airport had been so quiet.
Yvonne Thomas, 64, said she had been driving taxis for almost 30 years and had never seen business as bad as it had been lately.
Ms Thomas also called on the State Government to provide drivers with protective equipment and income protection in case they caught the virus from international arrivals.
“We are at the forefront of every passenger that comes in, we will get sick first,” she said.
“They should source us masks, hand sanitiser, and some disinfectant to clean our cars.
“I am worried about my health because I am not young.”
Ms Thomas said for many arriving on flights from overseas, a taxi was their only option to travel from the airport to their home or accommodation.
“The Government should step in and provide transport to isolate them,” she said.
“They should take them straight from the plane into some kind of quarantine vehicle.”
Perth woman Jacquie Day had been holidaying in Bali when the measures were put in place but said she thought the mandatory self-isolation was a good idea.
“I don’t think I could live with myself if someone else got sick just because I went on a trip, so I’m happy to do it,” she said.
“I didn’t really leave the resort or anything, because it escalated while I was over there, so I just tried to take care of myself, but I’m glad to be home.
“My husband is picking me up, so I’m going to keep my mask on and sit in the back and then I’m just going to have to keep myself in a separate part of the house to the rest of the family.”
Ms Day said fortunately she would be able to work from home, but she did not yet know if her teenage daughter would be able to attend school.
She said the hardest thing would be keeping a distance from her husband and children.
“I’m a bit gutted that I can’t give them a hug now when I go home, that’s going to be pretty tough,” she said.
“But I’m not going to risk it, I’m just going to stay at one side of the house.”
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March 16, 2020 16:28:30