Coronavirus ScoMo’ Stop hoarding. I can’t be more blunt about it.
PRIME MINISTER: Good morning everyone. Life is changing in Australia, as it is changing all around the world. Life is going to continue to change as we deal with the global coronavirus. This is a once in a hundred-year type event, we haven’t seen this sort of thing in Australia since the end of the First World War.
But together we are, of course, up to this challenge. All Australians, governments, health workers, teachers, nurses, journalists, broadcasters, mums, dads, kids, grandparents, aged care workers. We’re all up to this. We’re all able to deal with this, but we just need to continue to keep our heads, focusing on the right information, making good decisions, helping and supporting each other each and every day to make the changes that are very necessary as we deal with this very real situation.
We are going to keep Australia running. We are going to keep Australia functioning. It won’t look like it normally does but it is very important that we continue to put in place measures that are scalable and sustainable. There is no two-week answer to what we’re confronting. There is no short-term quick fix to how this is dealt within Australia. The idea that you can just turn everything off for two weeks and then just turn it all back on again and it all goes away, that is not the evidence. That is not the facts. That is not the information and it’s not our way through this. And it’s not what you see in the measures that we’ve already announced and the measures that we will continue to announce.
They need to be scalable and they need to be sustainable. As I said on the weekend, we are looking at a situation of at least six months for how we deal with this. It could be much longer than that. It could be shorter. That’s unlikely, given the way we’re seeing events unfold. So what we’re doing you’ve got to be able to keep doing and you’ve got to be able to sustain that. And that has to be something that is achievable for all Australians, so we can keep our country running in the best possible way in the interest of all Australians.
We also need to continue to work together and I want to thank again in particular the State and Territory Premiers and Chief Ministers – I’ll come to their decisions in a moment. But the cooperation, the collaboration, the support, the candidness and the way people are working together in a true spirit of national unity is exactly – exactly – what you would hope to be seeing from all of your national and state and territory leaders. And I thank them very much for their support and their leadership as we work through these difficult decisions and as we seek to relay them to the Australian people in the most simple way that we possibly can.
We are taking action across a broad range of issues. Obviously, the first of those is the health response, which is comprehensive, and every resource that is necessary to support that health resource at a Commonwealth, State and Territory level is being provided and I think Australians can be very confident about that and we’re continuing to coordinate the deployment of that resource. That includes into aged care facilities and other areas where health services are being provided.
But we’re also dealing very seriously with the very significant economic impacts. And as the measures that are put in place, as the protections are put in place to protect people’s health, they obviously have, in some cases, quite severe economic implications as Australians sadly are already experiencing, particularly in areas that are in the most hit sectors, in the travel, the tourism sector, the aviation sector, places like this, the external sector which has been feeling it first because they were the first to impact from the travel bans and the shut down of global movements. But that is spreading more broadly across the economy. In essential and critical services is another area where the national coordinating mechanism, what’s that? That is the Department of Home Affairs working with the states and territories, working across everything from supply chains into supermarkets, to ensure the continued support of telecommunications and essential services and energy and fuel supplies and all of these issues. My ministers have been working on those issues for days, working with the sectors to ensure we’re on top of all of those issues and the reports there, so far, are encouraging.
And thirdly, in workforce management. This is critical. Wherever possible, we need to keep Australians working. Working on the essential services and the economy that Australians need to get through this. And this is a critical – a critical – issue in ensuring Australia can keep functioning and importantly keep delivering the important services that are necessary, which at the end of the day mean that we can support the most vulnerable in our community who are at most risk from the effects of the coronavirus.
Now, as you’ve heard me say many times and you’ve heard Dr. Murphy say on many occasions, for most people, those of us who are blessed with good health and are in good condition, then this is a mild condition. For the more vulnerable, for the elderly, for those who have other health challenges, this is a far more serious condition for them. And so it is important that we who are healthy, those of us who will contract this and experience a mild illness, that we do what we can to limit the spread to ensure that those who are more vulnerable are not affected. If we slow the spread then we do save lives, and that is very much the strategy the governments of Australia are following as we move through this crisis.
Now, the National Security Committee met yesterday, before the National Cabinet. They made a number of decisions, one of those has been enacted this morning by the Governor-General, and that is that a human biosecurity emergency was declared under the Biosecurity Act by the Governor-General, and that regards the recognition of the threat, the coronavirus, and the need for the Federal Government to take actions under the Health Minister and myself as Prime Minister in relation to limiting that spread. Now, I don’t want people to be alarmed about this. This is what these measures in the Biosecurity Act are for. You have already seen, as I said on Sunday, that states and territories have been enacting the similar powers that they have under their various public health legislation to put similar arrangements in place. All of those arrangements are now in place in the states and territories and we have rounded that out this morning by ensuring that those measures are now in place and approved by the Governor-General.
Secondly, we are upgrading the travel ban on Australians to level four for the entire world. That is the first time that has ever happened in Australia’s history. The travel advice to every Australian is do not travel abroad. Do not go overseas. That is a very clear instruction. For those of you who are thinking of going overseas in the school holidays, don’t. Don’t go overseas. The biggest risk we’ve had and the biggest incidence of cases which we’ve had, which Dr. Murphy can go into, has been from Australians returning from overseas. From many countries that you wouldn’t have expected that to be a source. And so it is very important that Australians do not travel abroad at this time. And that is an indefinite ban, but as you are seeing from other countries around the world, they’re putting similar restrictions on entry, just as Australia has on others coming into Australia, and you would expect that to be in place now and that’s the stage we’ve reached.
Thirdly, yesterday, and you would have seen this announced last night, we put in place waivers of a series of aviation-related charges and they’ll be waived out over the next six months from the 1st of April with a rebate on those that have been paid back from the 1st of February. This will provide much-needed support for our aviation sector who has been the hardest hit from these arrangements, as you’ve seen from the various announcements from our major airlines, but don’t forget the smaller regional airlines as well. They’re also hit by this. So things like regional security fees in regional airports on those regional airlines, they are being waived as well. They don’t necessarily change the world for those airlines, but they do provide some support at a very difficult time for those airlines who are dealing with issues of staffing in their organisations and how they’re supporting those staff at this time.
We have also made a decision yesterday to lift the restriction on work constraints on student nurses who are in Australia. That’s some 20,000 international student nurses who are in Australia, have been in Australia for some time. We’re not importing the nurses into Australia, that would obviously be against the travel advice and bans that already have been in place for some time. But those 20,000 student nurses that we have in Australia, they’re going to be available to help and support the health effort right across the country, as directed by our health officials and they can be engaged for that purpose.
Now, the National Cabinet met last night, as I said, til quite late in the evening, it was a late night here and for them around the country. They received advice from the AHPPC and they’ve made the following decisions and there will be further decisions to come at the next meeting of the National Cabinet, which is on Friday. The decisions they have made is to put a ban on gatherings, for non-essential gatherings, a ban on non-essential gatherings, of persons of 100 or greater. So a ban on non-essential gatherings of persons 100 and greater in indoor areas. So in outdoor areas, it’s 500. Indoor areas, it’s 100. And that is effective now, as of today, and those arrangements in terms of the legal enforcement of those measures are being put in place by the states and territories.
Now, fair question is, well, what is an essential gathering? So as to define what is a non-essential gathering. Well, there is a baseline that has been established amongst the National Cabinet, which reflected in a lot of the legislation that was put in in relation to the outdoor ban. And that’s an airport, public transportation, which includes public transportation facilities such as stations, platform, stops, trains, trams, buses, etc. These are essential. Medical and health service facilities, emergency service facilities, disability or aged care facilities – I’ll be coming to aged care and the constraints we’re putting on aged care shortly. Correctional facilities, youth justice centres or other places of custody, courts or tribunals, Parliaments, food markets, supermarket, grocery store, retail store, shopping centre that is necessary for the normal business of those premises, office buildings, factories, construction sites, mining sites necessary for their normal operation.
Now, particularly when we’re talking about workplaces, I want to commend the employers of Australia, whether they’re in the offices of our capital cities or elsewhere, who are already putting in place quite sensible rostering arrangements in their workplaces, as indeed public service employers are doing as well, and I’m quite sure that amongst the media you’re doing similar things, which is sensible. That does two things. It ensures social distancing practices are being followed in the workplace, but equally it is changing the strain and providing for greater social distancing on essential travel, particularly in public transport and things of that nature. This also relates to schools, universities, education facilities and child care facilities, hotels and motels and other accommodation facilities, which can include things like mining camps and other places where people are transiting. So, in the Bourke Street Mall, Federation Square, Martin Place, those types of places. They are essential places, where there are essential gatherings. Non-essential is everything else. States and territories have the ability to add to those lists as they see fit based on the advice, and we’re obviously seeking to coordinate that.
I apologise for the length that I’ve got to go through here, but there’s a lot of things that were decided and it’s important that we convey that information. Further measures on gatherings indoor of less than 100 people are being worked on by the states and territories in terms of their practical implication. I want to commend the Premiers and Chief Ministers for this. We together want to be very sure that when we say there will be a limitation, then we need to be able to explain it to ensure that the rules are very clear for people to follow. We can put in place a rule for 100 indoors. It’s fairly straightforward. We can also put in place a rule for 500 people outdoors, that can be followed. But the other issue that we need to follow is the principle of social distancing, whatever gathering you’re in. As you can see, Dr. Murphy and I are practicing social distancing right now. I’d suggest the rest of you might want to think about that as well. It’s important that we try and observe those social distancing practices, which is a metre and a half apart, wherever that is practicable to ensure that we can contain and limit the spread of the virus. So those principles are very important.
On travel, what we have agreed is that the advice is that air travel, domestic air travel, is low risk. We have, as Dr. Murphy will be able to I’m sure tell you, we have not seen a lot of evidence of people contracting this virus on aircraft. It’s when they’ve arrived, or where they brought it from. And so the issue is not people, necessarily, being on planes as a great risk. The issue is people moving around the country. Now, to that end, states and territories working together with their health advisors, there are parts of this country that it would not be wise for people to visit. Just as it is important for people not to be visiting aged care facilities in large numbers, it is also important that they’re not visiting remote indigenous communities or remote parts of the country. And there are other parts of the country that are similarly sensitive. Now, we are working on a list of those areas that can be declared with the states and territories, and that will be driven by the states and territories because they have the best information on what the sensitivities are. So it’s not about going on a plane or not going on a plane. It’s about where you are going to. And there’ll be further advice and there’ll be further information on that that will be provided in the days ahead as those issues are finalised. But in places like the Northern Territory, Minister Gunner, the Chief Minister, there is already taking action on those issues appropriately and I commend him for doing that.
In relation to schools. Schools… so on public transport, I should say, that remains essential travel but social distancing should be sought to be practiced wherever possible, and that also means that the states are already putting in place proper hygiene processes in terms of cleaning of public transport. If you’re getting in a cab or in an Uber, sit in the backseat, don’t sit in the front seat. These are just sensible things that people should be following and Dr. Murphy can talk more to those or if you have any further questions on that.
The health advice is that schools should remain open. That is the health advice. Interestingly, this is also what Singapore has done. Singapore has been one of the more successful countries. In Singapore, the schools are open. In Singapore, they’ve been quite effective in managing and limiting the transmission of this virus in that country. The health advice here, supported by all the Premiers, all the Chief Ministers and my Government is that schools should remain open.
Now, there are a number of reasons for this, and Dr. Murphy will particularly go into this. The first one is that the virus operates very differently amongst younger people. It has a different manifestation amongst younger people and that presents a very different health challenge to the broader population. And so in terms of the health and welfare of our children, many of us here are parents and obviously we are concerned about the health of our kids. And the health advice that I’m happy to follow for my kids, for Jenny and my kids, is the same health advice I am asking all other parents around the country to follow. We all love our kids and there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for them. And I’m telling you that, as a father, I’m happy for my kids to go to school. There’s only one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell. And as parents you are in the best position to know if your children are unwell. Don’t leave it to the teacher to work that out when they arrive, or the school administrator, or whoever is on drop off. Make sure if your child is unwell, that you are taking action to keep your child out of school. That’s your responsibility. Schools will obviously try and operate to their best ability to limit children who may come who are unwell, but let’s not forget our responsibility as parents in this process. And Brendan can say more about that.
So, that’s the health issue. There are also, please know this, whatever we do, we’ve got to do for at least six months. Six months. So that means the disruption that would occur from the closure of schools around this country, make no mistake, would be severe. What do I mean by severe? Tens of thousands of jobs could be lost, if not more. The impact on the availability of health workers? A 30 per cent impact on the availability of health workers is our advice. That will put people’s lives at risk. So let’s keep our heads as parents when it comes to this. Let’s do the right thing by the country and by each other and follow the proper advice. There is a national public interest here in keeping schools open, and our advice is that is not being done at the detriment of the health of any child. If that was different then obviously, and if that became different, then Premiers and Chief Ministers and I would certainly come to a different view. But right now that is the advice and we need to ensure that when we’re putting these scalable and sustainable measures in place that we are doing things that improve the situation, not worsen the situation and lessen our capacity to deal with this.
Now, aged care. Some very sensible recommendations, and I know these will be difficult. Having been through this experience in my own family recently, I know this could be very difficult for families. The following visitors and staff, including visiting workers, should not be permitted, will not be permitted to enter an aged care facility:
- Obviously, those who’ve returned from overseas in the last 14 days.
- Those have been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days.
- Those with fever or symptoms or acute respiratory infection symptoms.
- Those who have not been vaccinated against influenza after the first of May.
The facility must also implement the following measures for restricting visits and visitors to reduce the risk of transmission to residents:
- Limiting visits to a short duration.
- Limiting visits to a maximum of two visitors at one time per day. These may be immediate social supports, family members, close friends or professional service or advocacy workers.
- Visits should be conducted in a residents room, outdoors or in a specific area designated by the facility rather than communal areas where the risk of transmission to other residents is greater.
- There should be no large group visits or gatherings, including social activities or entertainment, to be permitted at this time.
- No school groups of any size should be allowed to visit aged care facilities.
- Visitors should also be encouraged, as all Australians are, to practice social distancing where possible, including maintaining the distance of one and a half metres.
- Children aged 16 years or less should be visiting only by exception, as they generally, it says they, kids won’t necessarily follow the hygiene measures all the time like adults will.
Any parent will understand that, but also children can be asymptomatic and so they may be no knowledge of whether the child has been exposed to the virus or has the virus or not. And so that is just a sensible thing, it’s about protecting the residents at the end of the day.
Now, in cases of end of life, I know that people will want to see their elderly parents or relatives or others. I totally understand that. And aged care facilities will have the discretion to put in very strict arrangements to enable people to visit their loved ones if that’s the situation that that resident finds themselves in. Those rules will have to be done on a facility by facility basis and obviously it needs to conform with the general principles around social distancing and the other measures that I’ve outlined. But in those cases we all know how distressing that can be and so the aged care facilities will be asked to put in place sensible arrangements to facilitate those types of visits on a compassionate basis.
ANZAC Day. It was a busy night, as you can see. ANZAC Day, well, this has largely already been determined by RSLs around the country, but ANZAC Day events and ceremonies should be cancelled due to the high proportion of older Australians who attend such events. But there will be a televised national event here in Canberra, at the War Memorial. States and territories may also do one without public gatherings as well, which can also be available for broadcast, and that will enable people to be able to join those services at least remotely on what is one of the most important days, if not the most important day of the year, for Australians as we honour those. And it will be quite a solemn day because the last time, as I said, we’re in a situation like this, it’s after our diggers returned from World War One.
Now, on bulk purchasing of supplies. Stop hoarding. I can’t be more blunt about it. Stop it. It’s not sensible, it’s not helpful and I’ve got to say it’s been one of the most disappointing things I’ve seen in Australian behaviour in response to this crisis. That is not who we are as a people. It is not necessary. It is not something that people should be doing. What it does is it is distracting attention and efforts that need to be going into other measures to be focusing on how we maintain supply chains into these shopping centres. There is no reason for people to be hoarding supplies in fear of a lockdown or anything like this. As I’ve said, we’re putting in place scalable and sustainable measures. I’ll read you specifically what the AHPPC has said to ensure that there is absolutely no confusion. “The AHPPC advises against the bulk purchase of foods, medicines and other goods. We discourage the panic purchase of food and other supplies.”
I am seeking Australia’s common sense cooperation with these very clear advisory positions. Stop doing it. It’s ridiculous. It’s un-Australian, and it must stop. And I would ask people to do the right thing by each other in getting a handle on these sorts of practices.
Also, do not abuse staff. We’re all in this together. People are doing their jobs. They’re doing their best. Whether they’re at a testing clinic this morning, whether they’re in a shopping center, whether they’re at a bank, whether they’re at a train station, everybody is doing their best. So, let’s just support each other in the work that they are doing. And I encourage you please, if you see someone who’s doing that, just call it out and ask them to just refrain from doing that. That’s the right thing to do.
Now, moving on to the other matters that I had to raise today, then I’ll throw to Brendan. The Government is considering, quite extensively, further economic measures that will deal with the strength and the strengthening of our safety net and cushioning the even greater impact of the coronavirus on the Australian economy, particularly on small businesses and individuals. Last week, we focused very much on the stimulus-type activity. Encouraging investment, encouraging demand into the economy, providing support to small business. The measures that we are focusing on now are of a different nature. They are focused more on the cushioning impact of the safety net for individuals and on small businesses. The Reserve Bank has been involved in our discussions on those issues. They’ll obviously make those decisions independently as is appropriate, but we are putting in place further measures and we will announce them once they’ve been properly designed, and they can be properly implemented. We are not delaying, we are moving with great haste on this. But we’re doing it carefully to ensure we get the design of those measures right so they can be implemented as quickly as possible and provide that support.
On the health side of things, 80,000 tests have now been completed, and we’ve been able to source additional supplies of tests, testing kits, which is very welcome and further supplies are being secured, and that includes having domestic solutions to the supply issues that relates to the testing equipment. The same is true for personal protective equipment, and that does include and I want to thank those in the Defence Forces, they have also been very helpful with supply chains and logistics and other measures that we’re working on now. As we found during the bushfires, they are an amazing group of people who are able to come up with some incredibly innovative solutions and they have been worked on particularly when it comes to supply chain measures around personal protective equipment. All of that means though that while, yes, we may have been able to successfully secure additional supplies, when it comes to medical supplies, when it comes to personal protective equipment, when it comes to testing, it’s important to follow the rules around these. These are critical resources, they shouldn’t be used where it’s unnecessary to use them, and I would encourage people to continue to follow those practices.
Finally, you’ll be pleased to know, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. There’s a lot of ridiculous stuff circulating on text messages and the internet about lockdowns and all of this and sadly, there’s even been cases of wilful fraud and misrepresentation and fraudulent preparation of documents, even recordings, alleging to represent Cabinet meetings and things of this nature. Don’t believe it, it’s rubbish. Go to health.gov.au. Go to the relevant state health websites to get your information on what’s happening. Avoid all that nonsense that you’re seeing on social media. There are a million experts, it seems, but the experts that the Government is relying on, one of the most important is standing next to me here and now, all of the state Premiers and Chief Ministers and myself are working with those experts, whether it’s in supply chains, whether it’s in workforce management, whether it’s in health, whether it’s in power or telecommunications, they’re the people we’re getting our information from. We’ll continue to update you as regularly as is possible with clear decisions on what we’re doing, but on the misinformation – just ignore it. If you hear it from me, if you hear it from a Premier, if you hear it from Dr. Murphy, if you hear it from those official sources and websites, that’s the information you should follow. If you’re hearing it from someone just saying whatever pops into their head or whatever their opinion is on a particular topic – opinions are interesting but everybody has them. Facts are important. Information is what we need to make proper decisions on and you need to make property decisions on, and that’s why we’ll give you the information as best we can and as regularly as we can. I thank you for your patience and I’ll now pass over to Dr. Murphy.
DR. BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thanks, Prime Minister. So there are now about 454 cases of COVID-19 in Australia and we do, we have increasing numbers each day. But it is important to remember that the majority of cases in Australia, majority of new cases, are still imported cases or direct contacts of imported cases. And our focus for those is still the same. We are getting on top of them, identifying them, isolating them, contact tracing, that remains a very, very important part of our response across every state and territory.
But we know that there is community transmission. It is low level at the moment and we know that the way to control community transmission is social distancing. The AHPPC meant for two days this week, and like the Prime Minister said, we have a unanimity of opinion across this country. Every state and territory Chief Health Officer, plus our invited experts, plus our advisory technical committees are united on our approach.
Social distancing is really important to prevent delay transmission in the community of this virus over coming months. But be clear, a short term 2-4 week shutdown of society is not recommended by any of our experts. It does not achieve anything. We have to be in this for the long haul. As the Prime Minister said, it could be six months, more, that we have to practice these new ways of interacting. So therefore our measures have to be sustainable. There is no way that we can lock down society, make everyone stay home, and then in a month’s time undo that because the virus will just flare up again without any real long-term benefit. So we have to have sustainable measures, but they have to be serious measures. They have to be effective and that’s why we’ve put in a range of measures that the Prime Minister has outlined with more information to come later.
But the first thing I would say is that it is every individual Australian’s responsibility to practice good social distancing. Keep away from each other where possible, practice really good hand hygiene, wash your hands with soap and water at every opportunity you get, if you’ve been on public transport, if you’ve been touching things that in a common area, if before and after going to the toilet, if you’ve been having a meal. Social distancing and hand hygiene is really, really important. But we also have to do things at a societal level, and that’s why we’ve put in those recommendations that governments have accepted to restrict non-essential gatherings. We know that the actual numbers of infected people in our society is very low now, but if you get a lot of people together in close contact that’s the way you can spread the virus. So we need to avoid those large gatherings and limit them, but we also have to keep society functioning. So we are very focused on these measures being sustainable and allowing us to keep going as a nation whilst this virus is with us.
I’d like to specifically address schools. In China, only 2.4 per cent of the cases reported in Hubei province were in people under 19. Children have very, very few instances of clinical disease and even if they do, of even more severe disease. This is quite different to influenza and other respiratory viruses which have quite severe disease sometimes in children. We know that if, even in influenza, school closures are a controversial issue. We believe very strongly that it’s in the best interest of our children and the nation at this time to keep schools open. There may be occasions when there’s a big outbreak in a community that some local school closures might be necessary, but at this time across the community our view is that schools should stay open.
Now, there obviously are measures that we can take to reduce potential transmission in schools. It’s interesting in China that, again, most of the children who are infected were reported as having picked up the virus from adults in their household. But we don’t know whether children may be a vector of asymptomatic or transmission with low levels of symptoms. So we need to make sure that our schools are made as safe as possible. We need to make sure that no sick child goes to school. We need to make sure that no sick teacher goes to school. We need to try and avoid large assemblies and other gatherings at schools. We know also that it’s not really possible for children in a classroom to keep 1.5 metres apart from each other and we know that we’ve got to be practical about that. But schools should practice very good hand hygiene too. Very hard to do in the school, but we can trust our teachers to do it. Children should be washing their hands regularly, particularly when they’re eating, and particularly when they’re touching common areas. So it’ll be hard for schools, but it would be much, much, much harder for society if our schools were closed. We want our children to be looked after in schools, if they were at home, we know that they probably wouldn’t stay at home, they would probably congregate anyway and if transmission were occurring it would happen, or they may be looked after by vulnerable elderly relatives who are the people we are worried about.
As the Prime Minister has said, most people with this virus have a mild disease. The people we worried most about our elderly. That’s why we’ve taken these measures in relation to restricting visits to aged care. But there’s no sense in completely locking down aged care. Again, things you could do for a month and then stop would have no long-term benefit. We’ve got to protect our elderly for the long haul, for six months, and you cannot completely deny access to an elderly person in a residential facility to their closest next of kin, but we’ve got to make sure that those interactions are safe, very limited, and again with good social distancing.
So my final message is every citizen now has to think about every interaction they have with another person during the day. Normal handshaking, no more hugging, no more – except in your family, you can do that in your family, because you’re already close to your family – no more scant attention to hand hygiene, wash your hands all the time, use hand sanitiser, and just practice sensible practices. And also, as the Prime Minister has said, we are in a situation now where there are mainly important cases, small numbers, there is no need for us to be in a state of heightened anxiety, but we do need to be prepared, and we all need to practice this social distancing. Thank you.
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