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Coronavirus: What we know today, March 23

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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.

KEY POINTS

SA hits 134 cases

South Australian cases of COVID-19 have increased to 134, with 34 new cases reported by SA Health today.

Chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier revealed the increase today, which is the largest daily jump for the state since the pandemic began.

Yesterday’s update showed an increase of 33 cases.

Spurrier said half of the South Australian patients were in hospital while the other half were being treated by “hospital at home”.

She also revealed that none of the SA cases had so far required intensive care treatment.

She remained “very committed” to schools remaining open, as evidence from China showed very little transmission between children.

However, she said it was important for people to understand that social isolation steps undertaken now would save lives.

“When you look around the streets of Adelaide it doesn’t look like we’re in a state of emergency,” she said. “And when you look at what’s happening in Italy, the UK and particularly Spain now it can appear very distant and it’s hard to relate to it. So it’s really important for me to be able to bring people on board and for people to understand that if we take these steps now we are going to be better off in the near future and it is going to save lives.”

SA Pathology has so far conducted 17,100 COVID-19 tests.

SA Senator contracts virus

South Australian senator Rex Patrick has become the fourth federal politician to test positive for coronavirus.

The crossbencher has been in self-isolation at home after coming into contact with Liberal senator Andrew Bragg, who also has the virus.

“SA Health has advised me that, despite being asymptomatic, my COVID-19 test has returned positive,” Patrick tweeted on Monday.

“I have assisted them with comprehensive contact tracing and they’ll call anyone considered at risk.”

Senator Patrick, Senator Bragg, Nationals senator Susan McDonald and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton have all contracted the disease.

AOC says Olympic Games “untenable” this year

Australia’s Olympic chiefs say sending a team to the Tokyo Games this year is untenable.

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has told athletes to prepare for Tokyo to host an Olympics next year, believing the Games cannot start this July as scheduled.

The AOC held an executive board meeting on Monday and resolved that it was impossible to assemble an Australian team for 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have athletes based overseas, training at central locations around Australia as teams and managing their own programs,” AOC chief executive Matt Carroll said in a statement on Monday.

“With travel and other restrictions this becomes an untenable situation.”

Centrelink queues form as MyGov crashes

Huge queues have formed at Centrelink offices around Adelaide and the nation, as the MyGov website crashed today under “unprecedented” demand of people trying to access new higher payments or register after losing their job in the tsunami of coronavirus business closures.

The website giving Australians access to government services crashed this morning under extreme demand, as people went online while dealing with the rapid impact of the pandemic.

The rush on Centrelink offices was also prompted by first-time welfare recipients being told told they can only get a customer reference number by applying in person.

The sudden closure of pubs and many other hospitality, event and arts-based businesses in the past week in the face of the pandemic has thrown tens of thousands of people around the country, many of them casual, out of work and needing to seek urgent income support.

At Centrelink’s Norwood office in the heart of Premier Steven Marshall’s electorate of Dunstan today, a long queue snaked down Edward Street and into Orange Lane.

Read the full story here.

Santos cuts spending

Santos will slash its 2020 capital spend by $550 million and defer a final decision on a major Northern Territory gas project in a bid to counteract plunging oil prices and coronavirus.

South Australia’s biggest company lost $10.45 billion off its market capitalisation between February 20 and March 20 when its share price fell from $8.07 to $3.05.

The oil and gas giant this morning announced a series of financial measures to ensure the company’s survival in the low-oil price environment of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company’s share price slumped further to $2.86 this morning in the first three hours following the 8.32am announcement.

Full story here.

Port Adelaide staff and players in isolation

All Port Adelaide players and staff who travelled to the Gold Coast for Saturday’s AFL round-one game are now in isolation for 14 days.

Players, coaches and staff are self-isolating for two weeks at the behest of the South Australian government and SA health officials.

“Port Adelaide fully supports this decision … the club acknowledges every precaution must be taken against the spread of the coronavirus,” Port said in a statement on Monday.

The SA government on Sunday introduced strict border controls which require any person entering the state to self-isolate for 14 days as the Power returned to Adelaide.

The AFL competition has been suspended until at least May 31 in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Rex shuts down all flights except in Queensland

Virgin Australia is likely to cut more domestic flights and regional airline Rex will only operate passenger services in Queensland as a virus-spooked nation bunkers down amid new travel and trading restrictions.

Virgin on Monday said it expects its domestic schedule to suffer a material impact as a result of new federal and state government travel restrictions at the weekend.

The beleaguered airline will provide more information in the coming days.

Regional airline Rex entered a trading halt on Monday pending an announcement to the ASX of cessation of passenger services in all states but Queensland.

Travel firm Helloworld has meanwhile announced it will be sacking 275 people across its global network, while it will stand down another 1,300 workers from 1700 AEDT on Tuesday for at least the ten weeks to June.

That’s 65 per cent of the company’s workforce.

Air and travel firms have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic as demand plummets amid government-imposed bans and calls for increased social isolation measures.

Virgin’s larger rival Qantas last week stood down 20,000 – or two-thirds – of its workforce and slashed international travel to help it absorb the virus blow.

Qantas has also reduced its domestic capacity.

“2020 will be the toughest year of our lives”

The prime minister is rallying Australians to the dramatic action needed to slow the spread of the deadly coronavirus, invoking the Anzac spirit as pubs, cinemas, gyms and churches are forced to close around the nation.

From midday Monday, registered and licensed clubs, entertainment venues, cinemas, casinos, nightclubs, indoor sports venues, including gyms, and places of worship will close.

Restaurants and cafes will be restricted to takeaway only.

Scott Morrison said the decision was taken because Australians were not adequately sticking to rules around social distancing, which called for staying at least 1.5m apart and not gathering in large numbers.

Morrison today addressed a scaled-down House of Representatives, saying it was understandable people feared the unknown and there was still much not known about the virus.

Full story here.

SA schools to continue to open

The South Australian Government has over the past two weeks remained firm on its stance that children should continue to go to school in accordance with advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee.

Premier Steven Marshall reiterated that position on ABC Radio Adelaide this morning, but he said it would be “fine” if parents took their children out of school provided they were closely supervised and continued to receive an at-home education using “flexible” online and hard resources.

“If parents are going to take their children out of school they do have a massive responsibility to keep those children safe and supervised,” he said.

“They also need to recognise, if they’re going to do this, it’s not a two-week requirement – these restrictions are likely to be in place for six months.”

He said parents who worked in essential services also relied on schools remaining open so that they could “continue to get to work and not be home supervising their children”, which would “seriously compromise our ability to fight this virus”.

“We don’t want to have a whole cohort of people lose a whole year of education in 2020,” he said.

“If all of a sudden we had hundreds of thousands of children not supervised out in the community we would spread this disease much faster (and) we would also compromise our ability to tackle this disease.”

However, AEU state branch president Lara Golding told InDaily this morning that if schools were to remain open it was “absolutely critical” that they be provided with essential supplies such as hand sanitiser and soap.

She said teachers were also demanding “clear guidance” from the Premier on how they are expected to enact social distancing in a classroom in accordance with a Federal Government restriction of one person per four square-metres inside buildings.

“I’ve been hearing reports that there are a number of schools that don’t have sufficient hand sanitiser and concerns about soap and cleaning materials,” she said.

“Under the current arrangements, it’s mathematically impossible to have social distancing in a classroom.”

Read the full story here.

Merkel in quarantine

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has gone into quarantine after being told a doctor who gave her a vaccine has tested positive for the new coronavirus.

Merkel, 65, was told about the doctor’s test shortly after holding a news conference on Sunday announcing new measures to curb the spread of the virus.

Her spokesman Steffen Seibert said Merkel received a precautionary vaccine on Friday against pneumococcal infection.

Seibert said in a statement that Merkel would undergo “regular tests” in the coming days and continue with her work from home for the time being.

Merkel had earlier expressed her gratitude to Germans who were following the rules on social distancing, saying it was important to remain at least 1.5 metres apart to reduce the likelihood of infection.

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

– Reporting by InDaily staff, AAP and Reuters

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