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CORONAVIRUS ROUND-UP: WEEK OF 15 MARCH 2020

This week has seen a lot of announcements regarding State and Federal Government responses to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Nexus Public Affairs has provided PulseLine with a day-by-day breakdown of everything you need to know about what has happened and what has been announced.

SUNDAY

  • Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, announced that all overseas arrivals would be required to self-isolate for 14 days. In order to enforce this, new offences in each state and territory were introduced to enforce the mandatory self-isolation period, with significant fines for those who breach the self-isolation period.
  • In addition, Mr Morrison announced a ban on large public gathering of more than 500 people and recommended that people undertake social distancing measures. As part of these measures, the Government is recommending that people remain at least 1.5 meters away from each other and not undertake unnecessary social contact.

MONDAY

  • The Reserve Bank of Australia announced that it is considering purchasing government bonds following continuing economic pressure due to COVID-19. The purchasing of government bonds by the Reserve Bank is a sign that there are significant economic issues as government bonds are risk-free investment, and investors are flocking to them given that the ASX 200 was down 9.7% on Monday and fell by more than 10% last week.
  • The Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and Western Australia all announced that they were entering a state of emergency due to COVID-19. The state of emergency will give each state and territories Chief Health Officer the power to enforce the 14-day self-isolation period as well as a ban on gatherings of over 500 people. The state of emergency in each state and territory is initially set to last for four weeks and may last further depending on how COVID-19 develops.
  • In addition to the state of emergency, WA Premier, the Hon Mark McGowan MP announced a range of measures designed to stimulate the WA economy and mitigate the impact of COVID-19. As part of the package, WA residents will see their household charges frozen including electricity, water and vehicle registration. In addition, WA small and medium businesses will also receive relief, with previously proposed changes to payroll tax being fast tracked by six months.
  • After news emerged last week that the Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Peter Dutton MP had tested positive for COVID-19, he announced that he had departed hospital after being cleared. However, news broke that Mr Dutton’s Coalition colleague and Senator for Queensland, Senator Susan McDonald, had tested positive for COVID-19. Senator McDonald began feeling unwell on Friday 13 March 2020, and has since tested positive and was admitted to hospital as a result.
  • A range of Australian sporting events have been affected by coronavirus, especially following the Government’s announcement of new social distancing measures. Football Federation Australia and the NRL announced that each of their respective seasons would continue behind close doors, while the AFL announced that they would be reducing the length of their season, with only 17 rounds where every team will play each other once. This is in addition to Super Rugby suspending their league due to COVID-19.
  • Woolworths and Coles have introduced an elderly shopping hour from 7am to 8am every day in order to mitigate the effects of panic buying which has seen mass shortages of essential items including toilet paper, rice and pasta. In addition, Coles announced that it was bringing on an additional 5,000 new casual staff who will help stock shelves and serve customers.
  • RSL branches in NSW, Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia have cancelled ANZAC Day commemorations in order to protect veterans and ensure compliance with the new social distancing guidelines. Some dawn services will still be held across the country, but members of the public will be asked to not attend.

TUESDAY

  • It was announced that the Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP and the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP had come to an agreement to significantly pare down the number of MPs present in Canberra for next week’s sittings. It was announced that only 90 MPs will be present in Canberra next week, with 30 MPs from both major parties staying home. At this stage, the Government has not announced what will happen with the Senate.
  • NSW Premier, the Hon Gladys Berejiklian MP has announced a $2.3 billion stimulus package including extra funding for additional health measures as well as payroll tax relief for business with payrolls of up to $10 million. NSW Health will receive $700 million to boost a range of services across NSW. Other measures include a waiving of fees and charges for small businesses, increased funding for schools to hire cleaners and $750 million spent on capital works and maintenance of public assets.
  • Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 and the resulting decline in international and domestic travel, Qantas and Jetstar announced that they were significantly reducing their capacity, with the airline cutting 90% of its international services and reducing its domestic capacity by 60% at least until the end of May 2020. As a result, Qantas has grounded 150 aircraft and announced that the measures would affect its entire workforce of 30,000 people. Qantas has workers may be forced to utilise their paid leave allowances or take unpaid leave due to its decision.
  • Tasmania has declared a Public Health Emergency due to COVID-19, following the declaration of a state of emergency in the ACT, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia. The Public Health Emergency gives the Director of Public Health, Dr Mark Veitch, the power to quarantine, isolate or evacuate people. At this stage, Tasmanian Premier, the Hon Peter Gutwein MP, has said he will not declare a state of emergency, with Tasmania only having seven confirmed cases of COVID-19. Hobart’s Museum of New and Old Art has also announced that it will be closing due to the risk of COVID-19.
  • A third federal parliamentarian has contracted COVID-19, with reports breaking that Senator for NSW, Senator Andrew Bragg, contracting the virus. Senator Bragg suspected that he contracted COVID-19 while attending a friend’s wedding at Stanwell Tops on 6 March 2020.

WEDNESDAY

  • ­Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, announced a range of stringent measures to combat the spread of COVID-19. As part of the measures, Mr Morrison announced that there would be further restrictions placed on large gatherings of people, with a maximum of 100 people allowed in a single indoor area under new measures. The 500-person limit remains for gatherings that take place outdoors. Furthermore, Mr Morrison announced that there would be restrictions on visits to aged care facilities, with residents allowed to have a maximum of two visitors daily. Other measures included the introductions of an indefinite travel ban, as well as utilising 20,000 student nurses in Australia by lifting work restrictions.
  • Minister for Finance and Leader of the Government in Senate, Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann released a statement regarding the operation of the ‘scaled-back’ parliamentary sittings that are scheduled to take place next week. Despite confirming the news which broke on Tuesday which said will only be 90 members in the House of Representatives, with 30 pairs of MPs from the major parties staying home, Senator Cormann had no further updates on the operation of the Senate, saying that arrangements would be released later in the week following consultation with Labor and the Senate Crossbench.
  • Australia had its sixth death from COVID-19, with NSW Health officials confirming that an 86-year-old man died in hospital. This death is the fifth fatality from COVID-19 in NSW, with Australia’s only other death occurring in WA, after a 78-year-old man passed from the virus after contracting it on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship which was stranded off the coast of Japan. NSW still has the highest concentration of cases in Australia, with 270 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Wednesday.
  • NT Chief Minister, Mr Michael Gunner MP, announced a $65 million stimulus package primarily focused on ensuring that individuals and small businesses are able to cope with the effects of COVID-19. As part of the package, Mr Gunner announced $20 million scheme that would allow businesses to upgrade and improve their storefronts. In addition, $5 million has been allocated for not-for-profits, community organisations and clubs receive funding for repairs and renovations as well as $30 million for home improvement and a freeze on government fees, charges and electricity prices until July 2021.
  • Virgin Australia announced that they would be grounding all of their international services from 30 March 2020 until 14 June 2020 and will be also cutting domestic capacity by 50 per cent effective immediately until 14 June 2020. Virgin Australia has been hit hard by COVID-19 and Virgin’s stock price falling over 50 per cent in the last month. Similar to Qantas, Virgin Australia has indicated that its entire workforce will feel the affects of COVID-19, with full-time workers being asked to transition to part-time temporarily as well as people being asked to take existing leave or take unpaid leave.

THURSDAY

  • Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, announced all foreigner travellers will be banned from entering Australia from 9:00pm AEDT on Friday. The ban applies to all non-citizens and non-residents. Australians will still be able to return from overseas but they will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
  • The Reserve Bank of Australia has cut official interest rates to a record low of 0.25 per cent as it seeks to protect the economy from the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. The Morrison government is in the process of finishing a second round of economic stimulus, badged as a multibillion-dollar “safety net” package. The package would be in addition to $17.6bn in economic measures in response to the downturn caused by Covid-19, on top of a $2.4bn health package.
  • Qantas announced it will be suspending all international flights and standing down two-thirds of its 30,000 workers in the face of the escalating COVID-19 pandemic. Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce says the coronavirus outbreak will hit Australia’s economy harder than the global financial crisis with Qantas staff potentially being redeployed to stock supermarket shelves.
  • Home Affairs Minister, the Hon Peter Dutton MP, has vowed to ‘come down like a ton of bricks’ on possible crime syndicates who have been busing it out to regional supermarkets and clearing out shelves. Minister Dutton indicated there was an operation underway with federal, NSW and Victorian police, and border force involved to crack down on hoarders selling essential items on the black market.

FRIDAY

  • Prime Minister, the Hon Scott Morrison MP, announced due to the outbreak of Covid-19, the Government will not be able to table the budget until the first Tuesday in October. The Prime Minister also confirmed the national cabinet had agreed to a cap of one person per four square metres for indoor gatherings, including in pubs, cafes and restaurants, as was recommended by Australia’s chief medical officers. The national cabinet will also consider adopting further travel restrictions next week.
  • With Treasurer, the Hon Josh Frydenberg MP, admitting it would be hard for Australia to avoid its first recession in 29 years, the RBA cut official interest rates to 0.25 per cent, revealed plans to buy government debt to keep borrowing rates low and said it would lend at least $90 billion to banks on the condition they passed on that cash to small and medium sized businesses.
  • Australia has more than 700 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with four confirmed cases in the ACT. There have been six deaths and 41 recoveries as of this morning. The fourth ACT patient contracted the virus while travelling in the US and has been in isolation since returning home. The ACT government will announce a $137 stimulus package, which Chief Minister Andrew Barr hopes will save jobs and deliver immediate relief to individuals and sectors most severely affected by measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • Health authorities in NSW have confirmed another death from coronavirus, bringing the state’s total COVID-19 fatalities to six. NSW Health said an 81-year-old woman with the virus died last night. There have been 46 new coronavirus infections in NSW in the past day, taking the state’s total number of cases to 353.

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