Coronavirus: Scott Morrison extends social restrictions across nation, as two billion people globally in lockdown
An official text message will be sent to mobile phones across the country, telling all Australians to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The message will read: “Coronavirus Aus Gov msg: to stop the spread, stay 1.5m from others, follow rules on social gatherings, wash hands, stay home if sick. Aus.gov.au”.
The Australian Government tweeted the message this morning, less than 12 hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave a directive for all Australians to stay home for everything other than essential outings.
Text messages will be part of the official communications program moving forward, according to Health Minister Greg Hunt who flagged the move on Tuesday.
“Starting today, every Australian mobile phone will be sent a text message from the Australian Government with important steps each person can take to protect their own health, the health of their families and the health of the whole community from the coronavirus,” he said in a statement.
The official text was endorsed by the Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy.
About 36 million messages will be sent out in coming days.
VISA EXTENSIONS FOR AUSSIES IN THE UK
Australians stranded in the UK due to the coronavirus outbreak and country lockdown are able to apply for visa extensions.
UK Home Secretary Priti Patel said all foreign nationals stuck in the country would be able to apply for special visa extensions lasting until May 31.
“Those who contact the Home Office for these visa extensions will be expected to return to their home countries as soon as possible once flight and border restrictions are lifted,” she said.
“No immigration enforcement action will be undertaken during this time for those who email the Home Office as outlined above.”
UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) will also allow Australians and other foreigners to switch their work visas from within the UK, where they previously had to return to their home countries to apply.
HOW RESTRICTIONS COULD STOP VIRUS SPREAD
But the research, led by Professor Mikhail Prokopenko, also revealed social distancing will be a futile measure if it is adopted by less than 70 per cent of the population.
The researchers defined strict social distancing as any person in one household going out once every five days, or one member in a family of five going out daily, so long as the other four family members stayed home permanently.
“If we want to control the spread of COVID-19 – rather than letting the disease control us – at least 80 per cent of the Australian population must comply with strict social distancing measures for at least four months,” Prof Prokopenko said.
The researchers also found a trade-off between stricter social distancing measures and the time needed to endure them.
Every day stricter measures were delayed meant several more days under a longer suppression policy, they stated in their research.
ABF SLAMS NSW HEALTH
Australian Border Force commissioner Michael Outram said he did not want to “apportion blame” but the decision to let 2700 people disembark from the Ruby Princess at Circular Quay fell to NSW Health.
“The decision to allow them off in relation to the health and biosecurity issue was one of the NSW Health,” he said.
At least 133 people from the Ruby have since tested positive for COVID-19.
Mr Outram said after hearing criticisms of ABF officers, he believed it was important to “clarify some actual facts” about how passengers were allowed off the ship.
“I’ve got no information in front of me, factual information at all that says my officers did not equip their responsibilities under the customs … (or) immigration acts,” he said.
“We in the Border Force do not have expertise in health or in biosecurity.”
Mr Outram said on March 17 NSW Health requested information from the Ruby Princess’ senior doctor including al og of passengers and crew with fever or acute respiratory symptoms, travel histories and if tests were conducted and results.
“They requested that any passengers or crew with flu like illnesses were isolated and provided with hand rubs and masks,” he said.
“On March 18, at 9:39am the senior doctor on the Ruby Princess notified the Health Department with the following, they had collected viral swabs for a few cases of febrile influenza, negative test, and that those people had been isolated.”
“NSW Health stated to the Ruby Princess, ‘you are free to disembark tomorrow’,” he said.
“However, in accordance with the Australian government guidance, all passengers must go into self isolation for 14 days.”
Mr Outram said despite the NSW Health ruling that the Ruby Princess was “low risk” his six officers wore masks and gloves when conducting their customs and immigration checks.
“There were number of passengers in their cabins,” he said.
“The Department of Agriculture officials advised my officers that NSW Health had conducted a risk assessment, had rated the riskas low and that health officials would not be attending the vessel.
“As a result of that information, all of the passengers were given a green light to disembark.”
Mr Outram refused to specifically blame NSW Health for the failure, but said ABF did not have responsibility for conducting or facilitating health checks.
“People can then make their own minds up about what happened in respect of the Ruby Princess,” he said.
STAGE TWO RESTRICTIONS ACTIVATED
It comes as two billion people are officially in lockdown after India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the country and its 1.3 billion inhabitants would go into a 21-day “complete” lockdown.
Australia’s lockdown is being tightened to include food courts, auction rooms, real estate auctions, open house inspections, massage parlours, beauty salons and a range of other non-essential services.
Australia’s “do not travel” advice has now been turned into a strict ban on overseas trips.
Limited exceptions will apply for compassionate travel, aid work and trips for essential employment.
Galleries, museums, libraries, swimming pools, children’s play centres and community facilities will also have to close.
Cafes will continue to provide takeaway only. Food courts will be shut down except for takeaway.
Boot camps and personal training sessions are limited to a maximum of 10 people with strict social distancing rules observed.
Weddings may still continue, but only with a couple, a celebrant and their witnesses, as large gatherings are no longer allowed.
Funerals can only proceed with a maximum of 10 people observing social distancing rules.
Mr Morrison said Australians should not go out unless it is “absolutely necessary”.
He said people should only be going outside if they were exercising, buying food and supplies, seeking medical care, going to work if they cannot work from home, and fulfilling caring responsibilities.
Mr Morrison said it was safe for parents to send children to school. Schools will remain open but states and territories will deal with closures.
“We need to ensure kids get taught,” he said.
“It’s going to be a tough year in 2020 and one of the things I don’t want to have yielded up is a year of a child’s education, which is so important. We need to work so hard together to try and ensure that those kids get that education and that is not lost to this virus.”
Barbecues, birthdays and house parties must be “kept to a minimum” with “very small numbers of guests”.
“Visits to your premises, to your house, to your residence, should be kept to a minimum and with very small numbers of guests,” the Prime Minister said.
“We don’t want to be overly specific about that. We want Australians to exercise common sense.
“Gathering together, even around a large family table in the family home, when all the siblings get together and bring the kids, these are not things we can do now. All of these things present risks.”
Mr Morrison said some states would be considering criminal penalties for people who hold large house parties.
The changes come after days of mixed messages over the shutdown of non-essential businesses such as nightclubs, restaurants, cafes, cinemas and gyms.
Mr Morrison said he was “deeply sorry” to the hundreds of thousands of Australians who had already, or what shortly lose their jobs.
Mr Morrison rejected suggestions the rules agreed to by National Cabinet – such as limiting weddings to five people but allowing bootcamps to have 10 – were contradictory.
“Up to 10 (people) for a training (session), that is a business, that is someone’s livelihood and you are saying that I should turn their livelihood off. I’m not going to do that lightly,” he said.
“Where possible the National Cabinet together is going to try and keep Australia functioning in a way that continues to support jobs and activity in our economy which is not going to compromise the health advice that we’re receiving.”
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said people must avoid any unnecessary interactions with close contact.
“These measures are really draconian,” he said.
“We know that. But if we’re going to control community transmission, we have to stop the capacity of this virus from spreading from person to person.”
THE NEW RULES
Auctions and open house inspections are banned.
Outdoor and indoor markets are banned while rules around major food markets will be addressed by states and territories.
Personal services such as beauty therapy and tattoo parlours (but not physiotherapy) are banned.
Hairdressers and barbers can continue but must strictly manage social distancing and restrict the amount of time a patron can be in the premises to no more than 30 minutes.
Amusement parks and arcades, and indoor and outdoor play centres must close.
Boot camps and personal training must be limited to 10 people.
Galleries, museums, libraries and swimming pools must close.
Weddings can continue to be conducted where it is just the couple the celebrant and two witnesses, no more than five people.
Funerals are limited to no more than 10 people.
It is safe to send children to school up to the end of the term.
But some pupil-free days will be needed to plan distance learning.
Schools will reopen after the term break with a mix of distance learning and in-school learning for all “essential workers”.
PM to meet with teachers and other sector representatives about keeping schools open and protecting staff.
Everyone who still has a job is an essential worker.
The official “do no travel” warning will turn into an outright ban on overseas travel, with some exceptions such as aid workers and compassionate travel.
New offence of profiteering and seeking to export goods overseas, relating to such things as medical supplies and masks.
KIDS SAFER AT SCHOOLS THAN SHOPPING CENTRES
Health Minister Greg Hunt has defended the Federal Government’s decision to keep schools open even though NSW has two confirmed cases of children.
“Well, the medical advice is very, very clear that nobody, nobody, nobody, is immune, but that children are far less likely to catch and far less likely to have significant impacts. These are not universals,” he said.
“And against that background, the view of the medical advice is that in many ways, schools are a safer place than mixing kids in shopping centres. As we know, some of those children who have not been in school have been mixing in shopping centres, all being with grandparents. These are difficult choices.”
The minister said based on medical advice, the strict social isolation measures would remain for at least six months or more.
“This is a hardship like none that we have faced not just in our lifetime, but in 100 years and so you have a combination of what we saw in 1919 and 1920 with the Spanish flu and the human and health impacts and then we have an economic impact unlike anything we have seen obviously since the late 1920s and ‘30s,” Mr Hunt said on ABC TV this morning.
“But having said that, the combination of things that we are doing mean that we are in a much better situation because this is likely on all of our best medical advice to be approximately six months, it could be more, it could be less, but that’s the best medical advice.”
A total of 162,000 tests had been conducted as at Wednesday morning – almost the highest per capita rate in the world with one of the lowest rates of positive tests.
“That means that we are capturing a very large number, a much larger number of actual cases than other countries and so we’re able to have a very real handle which – which is why it plays out that so few people so far – it won’t remain this way – but so few people so far are in intensive care because we are capturing the cases while boosting the capacity at the same time. Important measures,” he said.
VIRUS AFFECTS YOUNG AND OLD
Young people, including babies, have died from the illness around the world.
The bulk of cases (56 per cent) in Australia have occurred in people under the age of 50.
NSW Health confirmed 27 (three per cent) of the state’s COVID-19 cases were under the age of 20.
“COVID-19 can and does kill young people as well,” he said.
“Some of the sickest patients we’ve had in NSW have been younger people,” he said.
“If you look at Italy and the US and England we are seeing intensive care units with young people in them,” he said.
While it was true young people were less likely to be severely affected by the virus they were underestimating the risk they posed to others if they disregarded strict social distancing rules, Dr Lim said.
“Even if you yourself are not getting severely unwell you could pass it on to someone else who could get severely ill,” he said.
More than 60 per cent of those children who became severely ill in China were aged younger than five and infants under 12 months were also likely to get very sick.
Information from the United States shows that it has so far had 705 cases among those aged 20 to 24 and 2.5 per cent of its cases are under the age of 19.
Three per cent of those hospitalised with COVID-19 in the US were aged under 19.
PATIENTS TREATED IN ‘VIRTUAL HOSPITAL’
Some COVID-19 patients will be treated not in hospital but in a “virtual hospital” in their own homes using new high tech solutions.
They will be given equipment that will monitor their temperature, their oxygen levels and other key vital signs saving precious hospital beds for the worst cases.
Information from the monitoring equipment will be sent to a centralised dashboard where it will be monitored by nurses and doctors.
If the patient’s condition deteriorates plans will be made to move them into a hospital bed.
Professor Rod McClure Dean of Medicine at University of New England has developed a world first Virtual Hospital program which uses sleep apnoea mattresses and other equipment to monitor the patient.
Professor McClure says he has found a supply of 200 ICU level monitoring equipment that checks a patient’s blood pressure, temperature, pulse rate, and oxygen saturation which can be installed in patient’s homes.
These monitors can be connected wirelessly or using a mobile phone connection to a major hospital where doctors and nurses monitor the patients and an artificial intelligence algorithm sets off warnings if the patient is deteriorating.
Patients will be contacted by doctors once a day over the phone to check their condition and will get an immediate phone call if the start to deteriorate.
The patients will also get regular visits from nurses as part of the Hospital in the Home network.
Family members caring for the sick person will get training in basic home nursing.
“We’re speaking to the e-health people in the state government tomorrow and within four weeks it could be fully functional,” Professor McClure said.
He just needs funding to purchase the remote monitoring equipment which costs $4500 per unit.
We are currently on track to have around 2 million COVID-19 cases by Anzac Day and would need 400,000 hospital beds to cope so high tech solutions are vital.
The government is currently trying to double the number of ICU beds to cope with COVID-19 but it won’t be enough if case numbers continue to grow.
An Australian software firm Noggin is at the forefront of the crisis management of COVID-19 worldwide providing technical support for the national COVID-19 incident room centre in Canberra, the Department of Home Affairs, and Health departments in most states.
Within three days it had developed special COVID-19 software it is providing for free to businesses and institutions that need help setting up makeshift hospitals in hotels or deploying resources to cope with COVID-19.
It can be adapted to COVID-19 and he said “We achieved zero hospitalisations or ED presentations using the system during the bushfires,” he said.
INDIA IN ‘COMPLETE’ LOCKDOWN
It comes as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced a total lockdown for 21 days to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“From 12 midnight the entire country will go under a complete lockdown. Seeing the situation as it stands, the lockdown will be for 21 days – three weeks,” Mr Modi said in a televised address on Tuesday (local time).
He said the move was in accordance with the opinion of health experts that a lockdown for a minimum of 21 days was necessary to break the cycle of infections.
“If we don’t manage these 21 days, the country will be set back by 21 years. Some families will be destroyed forever.”
People in many Indian states had severe movement restrictions placed on them beginning Tuesday, but it was not a complete lockdown and the duration had not been specified.
Mr Modi said the government would take care to maintain supply of essential items and services to people.
The total number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in India was nearing 500, with a surge in cases over the weekend. Nine people have died.
TWO BILLION PEOPLE IN LOCKDOWN
India’s call to go into lockdown means that two billion people across the globe are virtually on house arrest.
The minimum three-week lockdown of India’s 1.3 billion people means that almost a third of the world’s population is now hiding inside from the invisible virus.
Italy, Germany, Spain, the UK and large swathes of the United States are also in makeshift quarantine as the world uses the sledgehammer of isolation to stop COVID-19’s spread.
Egypt has also introduced a curfew for its 100 million people, while Israel and Jordan are already locked down.
South Africa, Rwanda and Tunisia are also in lockdown.
However, Turkey, which has millions of Syrian refugees in camps on its border at risk of the illness, has refused to lock down the country, with reports President Recep Erdogan has not been convinced.
It comes as the death toll in the UK climbed by another 87 to 422 on Wednesday Australian time, with an exhibition centre in East London due to be turned into a 4000 bed capacity field hospital next week.
And Italy has extended its lockdown indefinitely as it continues to bury hundreds of coronavirus victims each day.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the lockdown, saying that people would not be allowed to leave their homes and only basic essential services would be allowed to continue.
“You have seen the worldwide situations arising from the coronavirus pandemic in the news. You have also seen how the most powerful nations have become helpless in the face of this pandemic,” Mr Modi said.
“What the experts are saying is that social distancing is the only option to combat coronavirus. That is to remain apart from each other and stay confined to within your homes. There is no other way to remain safe from coronavirus. If we have to stop the spread, we have to break the cycle of infection.”
There are now more than 382,000 coronavirus cases across the globe, although that figure would be underestimated because of a lack of testing.
At least 16,500 people have died, with fears millions would die without lockdowns.
Wuhan, ground zero for COVID-19, will remain quarantined until April 8.
US President Donald Trump has been considered lifting a 15-day lockdown next week as he battles to get his two-trillion dollar rescue package through parliament.
The US was now expected to become the new epicentre of the virus with 46,805 cases.
TRUMP WANTS US ECONOMY OPEN BY EASTER
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump has said he wants the American economy to reopen by the Easter holiday on April 12, saying the shutdown measures will have a worse impact than the pandemic.
“I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” Mr Trump said in an interview with Fox News.
“You can destroy a country from closing.”
Mr Trump said he believed economic repercussions would lead to thousands of people taking their own lives over money worries.
CONCERNS FOR NY AMID VIRUS SURGE
Meanwhile, the outbreak in America’s coronavirus epicentre has hit faster and more viciously than experts had projected.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that despite a week of draconian shutdowns across the state, the rate of infection was doubling every three days.
This meant that rather than hitting in the 40 days that was previously predicted, it was likely to hit in two weeks.
“The apex is higher than we thought and the apex is sooner than we thought. That is a bad combination of facts,” Mr Cuomo said.
“The rate of increase continues unabated.
“We’re not slowing it, and it is accelerating on its own.
“We’re not looking at a freight train. We’re looking at a bullet train, because the numbers are going up that quickly.”
New York State is the worst hit in the US, with more than 10 times the COVID-19 cases of any other states.
There were 25,665 cases as of Tuesday morning (local time), and 183 people had died.
The 14,000 cases in New York City’s five boroughs account for 60 per cent of the state’s total – and about 35 per cent of all cases in America.
Mr Cuomo dramatically stepped up his projected medical needs, saying that rather than the 110,000 beds New York would need, that figure was now 140,000 hospital beds, which is almost three times its current capacity.
He also again demanded more federal support, saying the state would need 40,000 intensive care beds, but that there were only 3000.
Hospitals desperate for ventilators were experimenting with sharing one between two patients and four large field hospitals are being established in convention centres and universities across the state.
He also brushed off FEMA’s supply of 400 ventilators this week.
“What are we going to do with 400 ventilators when we need 30,000?”, Mr Cuomo said.
It came after US President Donald Trump announced that he plans to lift harsh shutdowns across the country in “weeks, rather than months”, in order to save the economy.
America is halfway through a 15-day shutdown that has closed many of the nation’s schools and non-essential businesses, in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The move, made at the behest of his medical advisers, sent Wall Street off a cliff, wiping out all the gains the market had made under the Trump administration.
A worst-case scenario being discussed at the White House floated a 20 per cent unemployment rate, just weeks after the US had record job growth.
“We have to open our country because that (the shutdown) causes problems that in my opinion can be far bigger problems,” Mr Trump said at a White House briefing.
“This is a severe medical situation that could cause problems, far beyond the medical.
“There are trade-offs, there’s no question about that.”
Mr Trump’s projection of a short-term reopening sparked a sharemarket rally, with the Dow up 8.3 per cent at lunchtime on Tuesday (local time).
Mr Cuomo said trading human lives for the economy was unacceptable, as more US commentators openly discussed the potential that a loss of one or two per cent of the American population was inevitable and that the costs to the economy needed to be measured against this.
Mr Cuomo said there was no way he would open businesses if it exposed the elderly or vulnerable.
“My mother’s not expendable, and your mother is not expendable and our brothers and sisters are not expendable. And we are not going to accept a premise that human life is disposable and we are not going to put a dollar figure on human life,” Mr Cuomo said.
Mr Cuomo said “an economic strategy that is consistent with public health strategy” was possible.
“We’re not willing to sacrifice that one or two per cent. Were not willing to do that, that’s not who we are,” he said.
“No one should be talking about social Darwinism for the sake of the stock market,” Mr Cuomo said.
The virus claimed the life of Tony award-winning playwright Terrence McNally, known for plays like Love! Valour! Compassion! and for musical version of Kiss of the Spider Woman.
McNally, 81, died on Tuesday local time in a hospital in Florida of complications related to the coronavirus, his representative said.
The Broadway theatre veteran was a lung cancer survivor and had lived with a chronic respiratory condition.
US ‘WILL SEE A TURNING POINT’
But although news out of New York is grim, the US will reportedly see a turning point in the battle to contain coronavirus sooner than expected, according to the Nobel laureate who correctly predicted when China would get through the worst of its crisis, reports the New York Post.
Stanford University biology professor Michael Levitt, who won the 2013 Nobel prize in chemistry, said his models don’t support predictions that the virus will wreak months or even years of social disruption or cause millions of deaths, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“What we need is to control the panic … we’re going to be fine,” assured Mr Levitt, who correctly predicted early on that China would get through the worst of the outbreak by mid-February.
Now Mr Levitt is looking at 78 countries that have reported more than 50 new infections each day.
He said he focuses on new cases — as opposed to overall totals — and sees “signs of recovery” in each of the places.
“Numbers are still noisy, but there are clear signs of slowed growth,” Mr Levitt said, without offering a concrete date for when the US may see its turning point.
The US has confirmed more than 46,000 cases, resulting in at least 593 deaths as of Tuesday afternoon (local time), according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.
Mr Levitt acknowledged that not all cases have been detected in some countries, but their death tolls are on track with his findings, the outlet reported.
Though fatality rates are higher than the flu, Mr Levitt said the pandemic is “not the end of the world,” according to the outlet.
“The real situation is not as nearly as terrible as they make it out to be,” Mr Levitt told the newspaper.
BRITAIN’S RESTRICTIONS WORSE THAN WARTIME
Deaths jumped by 87 in just 24 hours, the biggest daily increase yet, with the youngest victim claimed by the deadly bug aged just 33, reports The Sun.
The number of cases across the UK climbed by 1427 from 6650 – hitting 8077 in just 24 hours.
London North West University Healthcare NHS Trust was one of the worst hit, recording 21 deaths in a day.
Twenty-seven deaths were in London.
There are three confirmed deaths in Northern Ireland, with a fourth reported by the BBC but yet to be recorded with the Department of Health.
The devastating death toll comes as lockdown restrictions placed on Britain are stricter than during the blitz in World War II as it tries to fight the coronavirus with a complete lockdown, with a national emergency declared.
The UK has followed the lead of Italy, France and Spain, with fines to be handed out to people who break the rules.
All shops except for food stores and pharmacies will be closed for at least three weeks, with the army called in to help with logistics.
Gatherings of more than two people were banned and playgrounds closed following a weekend where Brits ignored directives for social distancing.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the nation’s 66 million people: “You must stay at home.
“Because there won’t be enough ventilators, enough intensive care beds, enough doctors and nurses.”
The UK was adopting some of Germany’s rules, where it was showing signs of reducing the spread of the virus.
SPAIN’S VIRUS DEATH TOLL SOARS
Spain has made the grim choice to turn an ice-skating rink, normally a place where children and families spent spring weekends, into a morgue.
The rink in Madrid has enough space for 1800 skaters, but will be used to store bodies as the country’s death toll climbs, with 462 dying in 24 hours.
“Preparations have begun so that the installations ceded by the Ice Palace can receive bodies, and facilitate the work of funeral services in the face of this exceptional situation,” according to a statement from Madrid’s regional government.
There were 601 deaths on Monday local time, compared with 651 on Sunday local time, and new cases had also dropped by 700 compared to previous days.
Authorities warned that the south of the country was still at threat after people were ignoring the lockdown there.
“The curve to the south does not seem to rear, but I have seen in the press pictures of streets full of people, things that are not seen elsewhere,” Silvio Brusaferro, head of the Italy’s Higher Institute of Health, said.
French authorities have closed all open markets and increased fines to $A248 as it ups its attack on the coronavirus.
Another 186 people have died in France because of the virus, bringing the total to 862.
Moscow was speeding up coronavirus testing as it battles to combat the threat, with 438 cases and one death so far.
Authorities have decided that one positive test was enough, removing the need for samples to be sent for a laboratory for further analysis and a second confirmation.
It comes as over 65s were bribed to stay at home with an $A86 payment to remain indoors.
India has cancelled all domestic flights from midnight local time on Tuesday and stopped its railway service as it fights the coronavirus.
Originally published as ‘Stop the spread’ text alert amid strict restrictions