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Coronavirus: What we know today, March 25

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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 SO FAR TODAY:

SA has first intensive care admissions

South Australia has had its first intensive care admissions as the coronavirus crisis escalates, as the nursing union says its raised concerns “at the highest levels” about a dwindling supply of protective masks in local hospitals.

South Australian cases of COVID-19 have increased to 197, with 27 new cases reported by SA Health on Wednesday.

SA Health revealed today that two South Australian men were now in intensive care being treated for the virus.

Chief public health officer Dr Nicola Spurrier confirmed the first ICU admissions, saying: “Unfortunately we do have two people in intensive care with COVID-19, who have needed that higher level of treatment.”

“We have people now admitted who are critically ill, so it’s so important that if you have been asked to stay in quarantine you must stay in quarantine,” she warned South Australians.

She said the two cases were not linked and both men were in a stable condition.

Spurrier said the total number of South Australian cases included a woman who attended a lecture at UniSA’s Magill campus,  115 overseas travellers and “not unexpectedly” a possible second case of community transmission.

She urged South Australian’s to “stay alert but not to get too alarmed” as the number of cases continued to grow.

It comes as health workers warn that there are “not enough surgical masks to go around”, amid confusion about proper use of the dwindling supplies.

Full story here.

More SA nurses to join virus fight

Recruitment and training of nurses and midwives will be fast-tracked in South Australia to ensure the state has enough frontline medical staff to handle the coronavirus.

Health Minister Steven Wade says SA is mobilising every resource it has to ensure the community and health care system is prepared.

“We know that with the number of positive COVID-19 cases on the rise, the virus will put additional pressure on our health workforce,” Wade said.

“This is why we are taking the critical steps now to boost the number of nurses and midwives in our health system.

“By fast-tracking recruitment and upskilling of nurses and midwives, we are working to ensure we have a nursing and midwifery capacity to meet demand.”

Australian cases double since Saturday

As of Tuesday, there were 2136 confirmed cases in Australia, up from 1091 on Saturday, with eight deaths – seven in NSW and one in WA.

The number of cases in NSW has jumped to 1029 after the state recorded its first cases of the infection in children under 10.

A two-month-old boy and a seven-year-old girl, who both had contact with people with coronavirus, have tested positive, NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said on Wednesday.

Of total NSW cases, less than half were contracted overseas.

Online learning for SA school students

While the State Government insists that schools must remain open for health reasons, it has established an online learning portal for students.

Education Minister John Gardner said the “Our Learning SA” website would complement classroom education.

“Our Learning SA is an important tool that will offer greater flexibility for students, schools and families and complements the learning resources teachers already have in place to ensure continuity of learning between home and school,” he said.

“With a strong focus on literacy and numeracy across every curriculum area, the resource guides parents and families on the ways to support children with their home learning.

“It provides students with meaningful classwork, developed by expert teachers, and any South Australian teacher or family is able to use this resource.”

Unley High School – which has already confirmed two COVID-19 cases, a teacher and a student – will this week “move to online learning for the remainder of Term 1”.

Elective surgery cancelled

Scott Morrison has announced that all public and private elective surgery apart from the most urgent cases will be suspended from midnight tonight, to let hospitals conserve resources and prepare for expected coronavirus cases.

He said the cancellations were based on the advice of an expert medical panel.

“This will allow the preservation of resources like personal protective equipment and health services to prepare for their role in the COVID-19 outbreak,” Morrison said.

Doctors call for nationwide schools closure

Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone today called for a nationwide UK-style shutdown, after prime minister Scott Morrison announced tough new virus restrictions but insisted schools would remain open.

“It is a big call for governments to direct the population to cease work, suspend schools, and only leave home for essential needs, but the AMA will back governments in making this call,” Bartone said.

Australians banned from leaving country

Australians will be banned from travelling overseas under a further crackdown on trips as the government tries to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Exceptions will be made for aid workers, some other government and commercial workers, and people seeking to go overseas on compassionate grounds.

Advice was already in place, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade recommending Australians not travel, but the new measure will make it an enforced ban.

The precise timing of the ban is yet to be determined but it is expected to occur on Wednesday.

“The number of people who are leaving Australia now is very, very low.,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday.

“But it strikes me on those numbers there are people defying that advice and looking to go overseas on leisure travel.

“They can’t do that because when they come home, they put Australians at risk.”

Government tightens social gathering rules

Last night, the national cabinet agreed on new measures to tackle the pandemic. Here’s a quick summary.

Click here for our full story.

BUSINESS

* From midnight on Wednesday food courts in shopping centres will only be available for takeaway food. No sitting.

* Auction houses will shut. 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, tanning, waxing, nail salons, spas 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 and enforce social distancing.

* Social sports such as large groups of people playing soccer in a park are banned.

* Galleries, museums, libraries, youth centres, community halls, clubs, RSLs and swimming pools must close.

SOCIAL DISTANCING

* 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.

* Large social gatherings in homes are banned.

SCHOOLS

* 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.

ESSENTIAL WORKERS

* Everyone who still has a job is an essential worker.

TRAVEL

* The official “do no travel” warning is now an outright ban on overseas travel, with some exceptions such as aid workers and compassionate travel. Exact time for ban to start yet to be set.

EXPORTS

* New offence of profiteering and seeking to export goods overseas, relating to such things as medical supplies and masks.

Mobile phone, internet use soars

Mobile phone calls and broadband usage have risen by up to 30 per cent as more Australians work from home or try to contact Centrelink during the coronavirus crisis, Telstra says.

The telecommunications giant said call volumes to 1800 and 13 prefix information numbers spiked this week.

“They have increased up to 20 fold,” CEO Andy Penn told Nine’s Today show on Wednesday.

“On data and fixed broadband networks, what we use at home, we’re seeing data volumes up about 10 per cent and on the mobile data side, they’re up about 20-30 per cent.”

Penn said while the Telstra network was experiencing “pinch points”, overall it was holding up and performing pretty well.

The federal government-owned National Broadband Network has already increased capacity for telecoms service providers by 40 per cent since the health crisis began.

Penn warned once that was exhausted, due to the high volume of internet traffic, more physical infrastructure might be needed “which we’ve got the ability to do, but that does take a bit more time”.

Virgin Australia stands down most of workforce

Virgin Australia has stood down about 8,000 of its 10,000 workers until at least the end of May and said its domestic schedule would now be cut by 90 per cent.

Virgin said it would try and redeploy workers and encourage them to use leave, but leave without pay would be inevitable for many.

Most domestic flights will be suspended from March 27 until June 14, while its previously announced international ban will be in place from March 30 to June 14.

The remaining domestic flights will provide essential services, such as carrying critical freight.

“We are now facing what will be the biggest grounding of aircraft in this country’s history,” Virgin Australia chief executive Paul Scurrah said.

More than 125 planes in the Virgin fleet will be grounded from the end of this week.

Virgin’s announcement follows a decision by rival Qantas last week to stand down two-thirds of its 30000 workforce as it slashed capacity.

Casino firm stands down 8000 staff

The Star Entertainment Group has stood down 8,100 workers or 90 per cent of staff at its casino operations in Sydney, Gold Coast and Brisbane following government imposed bans on gatherings and non-essential services.

“The Star has taken a very difficult, but necessary, decision in relation to its workforce … these stand downs include senior management,” the company said in a release.

The Star has provided two weeks of paid pandemic leave and employees will be able to access any accrued annual and long service leave entitlements.

It’s estimated that more than 800,000 jobs could be lost by the end of June and the unemployment rate reach 1.5 million as vast swathes of the Australian economy is shut down.

Olympics officially postponed

International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach says he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have not discussed the cost of postponing the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games until 2021 due to the coronavirus as it is a “matter of saving lives”.

The July 24-August 9 event will be rescheduled for the summer of 2021 at the latest, as proof of victory over the coronavirus, the IOC and Tokyo 2020 organisers said in a joint statement, after an agreement between Bach and Abe.

“This is about protecting lives,” Bach told a conference call on Tuesday after his call with Abe triggered the first postponement of the Olympic Games in their 124-year history.

The precise dates for the new Games have not yet been determined.

Virgin stands down 80 per cent of workforce

Virgin Australia has stood down about 8000 of its 10,000 workers until at least the end of May and further slashed domestic flight capacity in the wake of the coronavirus border restrictions.

The airline on Wednesday said its domestic schedule would now be cut by 90 per cent, from last week’s 50 per cent reduction and it would also suspend all flights of its low-cost Tigerair Australia service.

Virgin said it would try and redeploy workers and encourage them to use leave, but leave without pay would be inevitable for many.

Most domestic flights will be suspended from March 27 until June 14, while its previously announced international ban will be in place from March 30 to June 14.

The remaining domestic flights will provide essential services, such as carrying critical freight.

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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