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Coronavirus: What we know today, March 19

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Follow this post for rolling updates on the impact of the coronavirus in South Australia, the nation and the world, as well as the latest health information and links to official advice.

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Refresh this page for updates – scroll down for links to official health information.

SA coronavirus cases rise to 42

SA Health’s latest update on COVID-19 – provided this afternoon – is that five more people have been diagnosed with the virus in South Australia, bringing the total to 42.

Two people who were being treated at Flinders Medical Centre – a mother and her baby – have been discharged.

Eight people are being treated at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and 11 are being treated at home.

None of the cases in South Australia has been through “community transmission”, SA Health said, and none of the new cases has been linked to schools.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said she believed the peak in coronavirus infections would hit eastern Australia before SA.

Non-citizens banned from entering Australia

Australia is set to pull up the global drawbridge, banning all non-citizens and non-residents from entering the country from 9pm on Friday to minimise the impact of the coronavirus.

Australians seeking to return from overseas and their direct family members will still be allowed in, but will need to self-quarantine for 14 days upon entry.

“We have about 80 per cent of the cases … in Australia that are either the result of someone who has contracted the virus overseas or someone who has had direct contact with someone who has returned from overseas,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

Catholic Church suspends services

The Catholic Church in South Australia has suspended all Mass services and other “major liturgical events”, in response to health advice and the Federal Government’s ban on indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.

The suspension of worship will affect Easter services.

Adelaide Archdiocese Apostolic Administrator Bishop Greg O’Kelly said the move was unprecedented but necessary.

“This has been an extremely difficult decision and I am fully aware of the impact it will have on the faithful, particularly at this time of year,” he said.

“But I am also confident that all Catholics are committed to playing their part in slowing down the spread of the virus.

“We want to do what’s best for the health and wellbeing of the whole community, and protect the most vulnerable amongst us, especially our elderly and infirm.”

He said baptisms, wedding and funerals would continue “as long as the gathering is restricted to immediate family and close friends, and don’t exceed limits established by the Government”.

RBA cuts official interest rates

The Reserve Bank has cut the interest rate to a record-low 0.25 per cent in an historic suite of economic support measures to cushion the blow of the coronavirus pandemic.

Today’s widely anticipated emergency rate cut means the central bank has also pulled the trigger on its first-ever quantitative easing program in a bid to boost cash supply, encourage lending and investment, and support the nation’s virus-ravaged economy.

The RBA had already reduced the cash rate to 0.5 per cent at its regular meeting this month in a bid to buttress the nation amid rising fears of a coronavirus-induced recession.

Governor Philip Lowe said the Reserve Bank Board agreed yesterday to the comprehensive package.

It comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison flagged another round of economic stimulus measures on top of a $17.6 billion package announced last week.

Dedicated hospital facilities to open

The State Government today moved to ease pressure on the health frontline by establishing two dedicated facilities at two recently decommissioned hospitals.

ECH College Grove and the Wakefield Hospital will be repurposed from next month to provide an additional 188 beds to manage the anticipated increase in the number of South Australians needing hospitalisation as a result of the coronavirus, Premier Steven Marshall said today.

“Wakefield Hospital will be dedicated to caring for mildly acute COVID-19 patients in a 130-bed facility,” he said.

“Both hospitals will assist in providing a greater level of protection for the wider community by minimising the incidence of the transmission of coronavirus.”

The Government will lease them from their private sector owner for at least six months.

Read more here.

State Govt deregulates shopping hours

In a move that has angered independent supermarkets who say they weren’t consulted, the State Government will allow the option of 24-hour trading on weekdays.

In addition, the exemption, granted under the Shop Trading Hours Act 1977, will allow all supermarkets and other non-exempt shops to open from 12am to 9pm Saturdays and 9am to 9pm Sundays.

The changes will be in place from this Saturday until April 19.

Treasurer Rob Lucas says the change will give customers more opportunity to shop while maintaining appropriate social distances, and also give supermarkets more flexibility in restocking and providing special shopping hours for vulnerable groups.

However, Colin Shearing, who represents South Australian Independent Retailers, says the move will be counterproductive and put further pressure on the retail sector.

Under the Act, an exemption cannot be approved for a period longer than 30 days.

Qantas stands down 20,000 workers

Qantas today said it was suspending all international flights until May 30 and would stand down two thirds of its 30,000-strong Qantas and Jetstar workforce  “in order to preserve as many jobs as possible longer term”.

The airline said employees will be able to draw down on annual and long service leave, while additional support will be introduced, including leave at half-pay and early access to long service leave.

Employees with low leave balances will be able to access up to four weeks leave in advance of earning, but the company admitted periods of leave without pay for some employees would be “inevitable”.

Virgin Australia has said it will cut international routes from the end of March until June 14.

Tasmania introduces state border controls

Tasmania has declared a state of emergency and will screen all arrivals, including Tasmanians, from midnight Friday.

Arrivals must demonstrate they meet essential traveller criteria, applied to health care and emergency workers, defence personnel, air and ship crew, specialists, and essential freight personnel.

If deemed non-essential, arrivals will be directed to quarantine at their stated place of address and breach quarantine could attract a fine up to $16,800.

-AAP

AOC says Tokyo Olympics going ahead

The Australian Olympic Committee says the International Olympic Committee has provided fresh assurances that the 2020 Games will start in July, despite widespread concerns.

“We owe it to our Australian athletes to do everything we can to ensure they will participate with the best opportunity in those Games,” AOC chief executive Matt Carroll said today.

-AAP

Global infection figures top 200,000

Coronavirus has now infected more than 200,000 people and claimed more than 8700 lives, with more nations closing borders and shutting down industry is a desperate attempt to slow the pandemic’s spread.

In Italy, the death toll is approaching 3000 with an average of 350 a day, with more than 35,000 cases.

Read the full story here.

OFFICIAL SOURCES OF ADVICE AND INFORMATION

Local updates and resources

SA Health: www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/COVID2019

National advice and information

Australian Government Coronavirus information hotline: 1800 020 080

Travel

Australian Government travel advice: smartraveller.gov.au

Check your symptoms

Free, government-funded, health advice: healthdirect.gov.au

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