NSW, Victoria, ACT move to comprehensive shutdown of non-essential services amid coronavirus pandemic

| 22.03,20. 05:39 PM |

NSW, Victoria, ACT move to comprehensive shutdown of non-essential services amid coronavirus pandemic

PHOTO: NSW and Victoria were planning to push for lockdowns at tonight's National Cabinet meeting. (AAP: James Gourley)

The Governments of New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT will proceed to a more comprehensive shutdown of non-essential services over the next 48 hours in an attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Supermarkets, petrol stations, pharmacies, convenience stores, freight and logistics, and home delivery will be among the many services that will remain open.

Schools in all three states will remain open on Monday, but in Victoria school holidays will be brought forward to start on Tuesday.

Victoria and NSW were planning to push for lockdowns at tonight's National Cabinet meeting, but NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews made clear that their states would be pursuing these more drastic measures.

Mr Andrews said the step was necessary or "our hospitals will be overwhelmed, and more Victorians will die".

Ms Berejiklian said she would "update NSW tomorrow morning about the impacts and our plans following the National Cabinet".

Neither statement gave examples of which services would be considered non-essential, but previous Federal Government advice pertaining to "non-essential indoor gatherings" included restaurants, pubs, cafes, cinemas, weddings and funerals.

NSW has moved past 500 confirmed cases of coronavirus, reaching 533 as of 8:00pm on Saturday, while the Victorian tally now sits at 296.

States begin detailing school plans
Mr Andrews said, "the decision whether to re-open schools after the Term 1 holidays will ... be determined following advice from the chief health officer".

Mr Andrews's office said it would not be commenting or clarifying further until the National Cabinet meeting this evening.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said he would be following the recommendations made at the Cabinet meeting on the operation of schools, although Education Minister Yvette Berry said teachers would need to prepare to move their classes online, at least until the end of the term.

Pupils in ACT government schools will be told to stay home and engage with classes online from Tuesday, as teachers scramble to transition away from face-to-face learning.

In-person schooling will still be available to children who need it; however the ACT Government has not said how those children will be defined.

The pupil-free arrangements will continue until the school holidays begin in two weeks' time.

Coronavirus 'red zones' could face lockdown
Earlier on Sunday, both Western Australia and South Australia announced they were closing their borders as of Tuesday, requiring any travellers to go into self-isolation for two weeks. Tasmania and the Northern Territory already have such restrictions in place.

Political leaders will also consider urgent and draconian powers allowing authorities to shut down so-called COVID-19 "red zones", meaning state police officers would prevent residents from travelling to less infected suburbs or areas.

At the National Cabinet meeting the Prime Minister, premiers and chief ministers will discuss how to best implement emergency restrictions like those adopted in parts of Europe and in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

"We had scheduled our next meeting to focus on the issue of further and stronger measures to deal with local outbreaks within state jurisdictions," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

"We are bringing forward consideration of those matters to a meeting this evening."

The dramatic national approach would likely be assisted by the federal departments of Health and Home Affairs, and was flagged earlier this month by Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter who warned the Commonwealth may need to use unprecedented quarantine laws to restrict the movement of people.

Over the weekend health authorities were dismayed by numerous examples of crowds ignoring guidelines on social distancing, instead cramming into popular locations such as Bondi Beach.

"What happened at Bondi Beach yesterday was not OK and served as a message to federal and state leaders that too many Australians are not taking these issues seriously enough," Mr Morrison said.

The country's rate of new confirmed coronavirus cases is now growing at 20-25 per cent a day, with some projections showing between 1 or 2 million Australians could be infected by the end of April.

If those numbers were reached, tens of thousands of people would be dead based on the mortality rate recorded by China earlier this year.


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