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Govt limits indoor meetings to 100, bans overseas travel

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Prime minister Scott Morrison has banned all non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and ordered Australians not to travel overseas due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Locally, the Marshall Government announced police will spot-check passengers recently returned to South Australia from overseas to ensure they are self-isolating as required

Morrison announced the new indoor gatherings ban, which is effective immediately, this morning.

Outdoor gatherings of 500 people or more were banned on the weekend as the federal government tries to curb the spread of the disease.

Airports and public transport facilities including stations, platforms and stops are considered essential.

Medical and health services and emergency service facilities are exempted from the ban, along with disability and aged care centres, which are subject to other restrictions.

Supermarkets, food markets, grocery shops, retail outlets and shopping centres will be allowed to remain open.

Parliaments, jails, courts, factories, construction sites, mines will also be able to continue normal operations.

The hotels industry is seeking more information, with the Australian Hotels Association saying the ban would have a devastating effect on pubs.

Schools will remain open, with Morrison pointing to Singapore as an example.

“In Singapore they have been quite effective in managing and limiting the transmission of this virus in that country,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said children had recorded very few instances of severe cases of coronavirus.

“We believe very strongly that it’s in the best interests of our children and the nation at this time to keep schools open,” he said.

Morrison warned closing schools could cost tens of thousands of jobs.

‘Stop hoarding’

The prime minister also bluntly told Australians to stop hoarding groceries and other supplies.

Morrison said the new restrictions did not mean Australians should be panicking and certainly not stripping supermarket shelves bare.

“Stop hoarding,” he said.

“It is not sensible, it is not helpful and it has been one of the most disappointing things I have seen in Australian behaviour in response to this crisis.”

Long-term changes

National coronavirus cases are approaching 460 and five people have died. Some 81,000 people have been tested, 99.5 per cent of whom returned a negative test.

Morrison cautioned the changes to daily life will be a long-haul measure, with the government expecting the virus crisis will roll on for at least six months.

“What we are doing, you have to be able to keep doing that and sustain that,” he said.

“There is no two-week answer to what we’re confronting …The idea that you can just turn everything off for two weeks and then turn it all back on again and it all goes away, that is not the evidence.”

He praised employers who had ensured employees were working from home during the pandemic.

Australia also upgraded its international travel advice to the highest level, with all citizens being told not to travel overseas because of coronavirus.

Morrison said it was the first time travel advice has been escalated to “do not travel” abroad.

“Do not go overseas. That is very clear, that instruction,” he said.

“For those who are thinking of going overseas in the school holidays, don’t. Don’t go overseas.”

Morrison said the biggest risk of spreading the disease had been from Australians returning from overseas.

“It is very important that Australians do not travel abroad at this time,” he said.

He said the ban on travel was indefinite, noting other countries had similar restrictions on arrivals.

Spot checks

In SA, police will start ‘spot checking’ on people who have recently returned from overseas to make sure they are complying with the 14-day self-isolation period.

Police will use the details provided on incoming passenger visitor cards to conduct the spot checks.

It comes as a strong legal direction has been issued by SA Health ensuring those coming to Australia self-isolate.

The Commonwealth Border Force will hand the direction to everyone arriving at Adelaide Airport from international flights, outlining their obligation to comply.

They will also be given a fact sheet with advice and support information on how to self-isolate.

Premier Steven Marshall said the declaration enabled the state government to implement all nationally agreed initiatives to deal with the pandemic and safeguard the health and wellbeing of all South Australians.

Health Minister Stephen Wade said there were significant penalties in place for any person or corporate body which failed to comply with the new direction.

“With everyone working together we have the best chance of limiting and slowing the spread of the virus in the community,” Mr Wade said.

Australians still overseas have been urged to fly home while they were still able.

Travel advice issued on Tuesday evening by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Australians should return home before the virus caused more borders to close.

“If you’re already overseas and wish to return to Australia, we recommend you do so as soon as possible by commercial means,” the advice read.

“You may not be able to return to Australia when you had planned to. Consider whether you have access to health care and support systems if you get sick while overseas.”

Virgin suspends flights

Virgin Australia will suspend all international flights and make deeper cuts to domestic capacity as travel demand plummets.

The airline on Wednesday said it will suspend all international flying for two and a half months from March 30 to June 14 and is also set to reduce domestic capacity across Virgin and Tigerair by 50 per cent in response to travel restrictions.

Virgin’s new measures are the equivalent of grounding 53 aircraft and follow already-announced service reductions on Friday.

The airline said it would aim to avoid staff redundancies “wherever possible” by fast-tracking measures such as accrued leave, leave without pay, and redeployment.

Virgin’s cuts follow a federal government announcement that Australia’s airlines will be handed a $715 million lifeline to help the sector through the coronavirus pandemic.

Qantas on Tuesday flagged an impending 90 per cent reduction in international flights and 60 per cent reduction in domestic capacity.

Air New Zealand will also cut 13 routes to Australia and will run just 20 per cent of regular trans-Tasman capacity.

-with AAP

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