Life, but not as we know it: Six months to catch a killer

LIFE AS we know it in Australia has changed for the next six months or more, with bans on mass gatherings, restrictions on aged care visits, no more overseas travel and more restrictions to come.

Laws could be enacted to stop hoarding if people don't rein in behaviour, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison issuing a blunt warning: Stop it.

A wartime spirit is being called on for Australians to make it through the devastating social and economic period ahead.

The Health Minister also has been granted extraordinary powers: to issue legally enforceable orders on people or areas to help limit the spread of the virus, with people facing five years jail or $63,000 fines if they ignore them.

The Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy clearly warned a brief shutdown would not work and that the virus would continue to spread unless drastic measures were taken over the next six months.

Effective immediately, there are to be no non-essential gatherings indoors of more than 100 people, or 500 people outdoors; and no travel overseas; while severe restrictions will be put on aged care visitation and Anzac Day ceremonies have been cancelled.

Domestic travel remains open for now, public transport will continue to operate and schools will also remain open due to the fact children remain largely unaffected by the virus and only have mild symptoms if infected.

Even basic social interactions will have to change, with handshakes and hugs now urged to stop outside family members. People are being urged to keep 1.5m from each other where possible.

The measures will be in place for six months, with Professor Murphy explaining a two-week shutdown simply would not work.

"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," Prof Murphy said.

Mr Morrison called for an end to the 'unAustralian" stockpiling, which had left shopping market shelves bare.

"Stop hoarding. I can't be more blunt about it. Stop it. It's been one of the most disappointing things I've seen in Australian behaviour in response to this crisis," he said.

"There is no reason for people to be hoarding supplies in fear of a lockdown or anything like this."

The mass gathering ban for indoor venues will apply to anything considered non-essential, including clubs, pubs, restaurants, as well as churches and other places of worship, with the State Government developing laws for its legal enforcement.

The ban will not apply to offices, workplaces, construction sites and civic buildings like parliaments and courts.

Shopping centres, retail stores and hospitals, hotels and public transport also are exempt to help keep the country running through the crisis.

Large public spaces where people transit through, like Brisbane's Queen Street Mall, will also be exempt.

Australians have been told not to travel anywhere internationally, with a "do not travel" order put in place globally for the first time.

Mr Morrison said he was aware of the gravity of the measures being implemented but that they were needed for Australia to get through this.

"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," he said.

"In the area of the economic impact, what we're seeing here is we haven't seen this for a very, very long time.

"We haven't seen a pandemic on this scale globally or something of this nature going back to a 100 years ago, and so it was a very different world back then, and today that puts us in quite unprecedented response territory."

More restrictions are to be announced on Friday, with Mr Morrison and state leaders to consider "practical guidance and rules" for non-essential indoor gathering, including for cinemas, theatres, restaurants, cafes, pubs, clubs and even weddings and funerals.

There will not be any large-scale domestic travel restrictions for now, although there will be some limitations to accessing remote indigenous communities, which may have more vulnerable populations and more difficulties accessing health care.

Oda Eikas and Zackary Loevseth at Southbank Beach in Brisbane. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Oda Eikas and Zackary Loevseth at Southbank Beach in Brisbane. Picture: Steve Pohlner

For Norwegian tourists Zackary Ioevseth and Oda Eikås, their perfect escape to Queensland has been cut short, with them being forced home this morning. Both donning masks as they made the most of their last day in the Sunshine state, the couple have told of their disappointment not being able to stay for longer.

"We've only been here for a week, it's only a short time but we've done so much." Mr Ioevseth told The Courier-Mail.
"We've gone diving up in Cairns and visited Airlie Beach, we've loved all of it, but now everything has changed."

"We hope we can come back one day," Ms Eikås said.

A human biosecurity emergency also was declared, giving the Health Minister the power to issue legally binding direction to limit the spread of the disease.

Their only use so far have been to block cruise ships from entering Australian ports.

They can also be used to cancel large events like festivals, close child care or schools in particular areas, direct legally enforceable self isolation, restrict entry into specific areas like a town or impose some limitations on domestic travel.

Many of the measures are achievable through State legislation in practice, and they would only be used sparingly.

An extraordinary G20 leaders summit will also be hosted next week to discuss a globally co-ordinated response to COVID-19, with Mr Morrison to attend via video conference.

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