Coronavirus Australia: Scott Morrison to announce new restrictions on indoor gatherings, aged care homes
Last night’s National Cabinet meeting also considered new measures to lock down aged care homes, with elderly Australians the most vulnerable to the virus.
The government will unveil a $715 million relief package for the nation’s troubled airlines, refunding and waiving expensive fees as flights are grounded.
The coronavirus Cabinet — including the Prime Minister and state and territory leaders — met last night to consider the latest medical advice on public crowds.
So far, mass gatherings have been limited to 500 people, forcing cancellations of sporting and cultural events. Experts are now leaning towards imposing a new limit of 150 or even 100 people on indoor gatherings. Big entertainment venues have already been shut down across Europe and the US.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann conceded “the grim reality” that “many businesses” would close.
Thousands of Victorian workers have already been laid off, and the federal government is bracing for the unemployment rate to spike in coming months.
“This makes the global financial crisis look like a walk in the park,” a senior source said last night.
The new restrictions are expected to be accompanied by billions of dollars in new federal assistance to help businesses survive the crisis.
A second stimulus package — following an initial $17.6 billion injection last week — will be unveiled within days, with the government believed to be exploring options to guarantee business loans, refinance debt and take on some risk held by the banks.
The Reserve Bank is preparing to launch its own emergency measures tomorrow, tipped to include another rate cut and what would effectively be a money-printing blitz.
The $715 million boost for the aviation industry will be announced today by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, enabling airlines to avoid aviation fuel excise and service charges for domestic operations.
They are expected to see an immediate $159 million boost as charges paid since the start of February are reimbursed.
“Our airlines run on tight budgets at the best of times and these past few weeks have been particularly tough. I’ve been speaking with Australian airline executives every day and will continue to work with them to make sure they receive the support they need,” Mr McCormack said.
Amid fears of a recession, Australia’s share market closed 5.8 per cent higher on Tuesday — its biggest gain since 1997 — on a wild day that followed the biggest one-day rout since the 1987 crash, a 9.7 per cent plunge on Monday.
Senator Cormann promised the government would deliver to businesses “the appropriate levels of support through this transition to the other side when there will be a strong recovery”.
“We are going to try to keep as many Australians in jobs as possible, working in the best possible way, including with businesses around Australia,” he said. “But we will also be providing appropriate levels of support for those Australians who, over the next few weeks and months, will not be able to remain in employment because of the downturn caused by the coronavirus.”
With Qantas and Virgin Australia forced to introduce deep cuts to international flights, Transport Workers’ Union secretary Michael Kaine said the government needed to “act urgently to protect jobs and working families”.
“This is not the long-term decline of an industry but a potentially short, sharp hit that will require workers to be ready to go back to their jobs,” he said.
Several states have already unveiled their own economic stimulus measures, but the Andrews Government is yet to follow suit.
Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas said the coronavirus crisis was “the greatest material risk to the wellbeing, the health and indeed the lives of more Australians than has occurred in the history of this country”.
He said the state government was “looking at the best options” and would “take appropriate steps and appropriate measures when it is apparent what the collective effort is” from the second federal stimulus package.
But the federal government will announce on Wednesday that 97,000 testing kits will arrive in the country this week.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said: “We’re doing everything possible to avoid any shortages in testing equipment and supplies.”
NATIONAL CABINET’S POTENTIAL NEXT STEPS
Ban on static indoor gatherings of more than 100 people
New restrictions on aged-care homes to limit visitors
Enhanced self-isolation advice for vulnerable Australians
Co-ordinated approach to appropriate timing for school closures
Originally published as New crowd limits to hit cinemas, pubs, restaurants