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Coronavirus: What we know today, March 28

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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 cases rise to 287

South Australian cases of COVID-19 have increased to 287, with 30 new cases reported to SA Health by Saturday afternoon.

The new cases are aged from 19 to 79 years, with another eight linked to the Ruby Princess princess cruise ship, taking SA positive cases from that ship to 61 and 83 in total from cruise ships.

Chief public health officer Dr Nicola Spurrier said two of the new cases are community transmissions, with the person having no apparent link to anyone sick or with recent overseas or interstate travel, bringing a total of four cases where health authorities are unable to find an infection source.

“My team are still investigating these cases so it may be that we are able to find a link, but at this stage we are reporting four,” she said.

A 53 year old woman who had been in the RAH intensive care unit has been returned to a ward, but five Covid-19 patients remain, with three critical and two stable.

SA Health was also investigating the local travels of a Swiss tour group, which had since flown home but was believed to be potentially infectious when in SA.

Australia has now surpassed 3100 cases, with 14 deaths.

A 91-year-old woman from NSW died today, taking that state’s death toll to eight, with 1617 confirmed cases, including 22 people in intensive care and 170 cases from community transmission.

Victoria has nearly 700 cases. Globally, more than 575,000 people have been infected, with about 26,000 reported deaths.

SA bans gatherings of more than 10, police to fine offenders

SA police have been given powers to issue on the spot fines of $1000 for individuals and $5000 for businesses in order to ensure people follow self-quarantine directions and a new state rule banning gatherings of more than 10 people.

Premier Steven Marshall said on Saturday morning that Governor Hieu Van Le had just signed off new regulations allowing police to enforce the social distancing rule announced on Friday night.

Gatherings of less than 10 people would still require the people present to adopt a spacing measurement of one person per four square metres.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said officers would begin enforcing the rule from today.

“The expiations primarily will relate to people who are required to self-quarantine or self-isolate and breach those requirements,” he said.

“The principal objective here is to ensure that people required to self-quarantine, who we believe present a risk of spreading the infection, comply with those obligations.”

Stevens said the finer detail of enforcing the new rules were being examined, as there were some exemptions to groups of ten gathering and challenges to checking people in open space areas.

He said the situation was “unique and unprecedented” and “we are writing the rules for this every day”.

He said police were also checking on people under quarantine as notified by SA Health, but state border closures meant SA Police were now compiling their own database of returned travellers told to self-isolate and officers were conducting compliance checks.

Marshall says rethink Easter holidays, go to beach but don’t visit Kangaroo Island

Premier Steven Marshall has asked South Australians not to go away for Easter holidays, except to their own holiday home if applicable to stay with their own family.

“We’re asking people to stay at home with their family as much as they possibly can,” he said.

And he appealed for people not to travel to Kangaroo Island.

“I really think holidaying on Kangaroo Island right now unfortunately is over,” he said.

“The reality is that this is an area of South Australia which is cut off from the mainland, it will be more difficult for health care services to provide high level care should a very significant outbreak occur, so non-essential travel to Kangaroo Island is no longer advised.”

The state government was not considering closing beaches, as occurred in Sydney and Melbourne after large crowds gathered despite new rules.

Marshall said it was important to get exercise and there was nothing wrong with people and families heading to the beach.

“We’re saying it’s a beautiful day, we don’t want thousands and thousands of people all bumping into each other,” he said.

“If you’re going down to the beach, great. If you’re getting exercise, great. If you’re with your family, great. But as much as possible, socially isolate, stay away from people. If we do this, we will slow the spread.”

Marshall said SA was responding well to the crisis.

“We’re listening to the experts. They’re very clear they’re very pleased with our testing regime here in South Australia, we don’t have exponential growth in the number of people contracting the virus.”

Governor steps down from public duties

SA Governor Hieu Van Le announced he is stepping down from public duties as coronavirus continues to spread.

In a statement released on Friday, Le said he and his wife would continue their regular engagements and communication with the SA community through other means.

He said while things were challenging in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, everyone had a part to play and staying in touch was vital.

“Every one of us is potentially affected by this pandemic – no one is exempt,” he said.

“At the same time, as we are physically distancing ourselves from one another, we need to remain connected in spirit.

“More than ever, it is important to extend kindness to one another, to look out and care for each other, and to ensure that our actions and words reflect the society that we are – a society that is harmonious, resilient, respectful, and decent; a society that believes in the common good.”

Myer closes stores, stands down 10,000 staff

Myer will close all stores for at least four weeks from Sunday, and stand down 10,000 staff without pay.

While its stores are shut, Myer will continue to operate all online business, and full and part time staff are being given greater flexibility to access annual leave and long service entitlements.

Myer chief executive John King said the outcome is “one of the toughest decisions this company has faced in its 120 years of operation”.

The SDA, the union for retail, fast food and warehouse workers, said around 30,000 retail staff had been stood down in a wave of business and store shutdowns since measures were introduced to limit the spread of coronavirus.

“Myer’s decision makes the situation even more serious and urgent – this is a brand that has not only been a major employer, but a symbol of Australian retail success, for more than a century,” SDA national secretary Gerard Dwyer said.

“How many more major and minor brands – retailers big and small – (will) take unilateral action because the government has left them no choice and the prime minister fails to extend to them what the community expects.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday that details of a plan to effectively cocoon businesses will be announced in the next few days as part of a third stimulus package, which will also include commercial and residential rental assistance.

Morrison said there were some businesses that would have to close their doors and the government wanted them to effectively go into hibernation for six months.

The SDA and Australian Retailers Association are calling for industry wage subsidies, rent and debt relief and underwriting of credit, but the government says it is not considering wage subsidies for workers.

Country Road, fashion stores to close

Retailers Country Road, Mimco, Politix, Trenery and Witchery will close their doors as the spread of coronavirus leaves many shoppers confined to their homes.

The stable of retailers, owned by South African company Woolworths Holdings, announced the temporary closure of stores until further notice on Saturday.

Department store David Jones, which is also owned by Woolworths, will continue to operate its larger stores.

“As a heritage Australian brand, we recognise that we have an important role to play in slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Country Road said in a statement posted online.

“This is a decision that has not been made lightly, and one we feel is necessary to protect the health and wellbeing of our team, customers and wider community.”

All the brands will continue to trade online.

Returning Aussies to be locked in hotels

Australians returning from overseas as the coronavirus pandemic worsens will now be quarantined in hotels and other facilities for two weeks before returning to their homes.

The crackdown on international travellers will come into effect at midnight Saturday and be enforced by police and private security on a state-by-state basis, with support from the Australian Defence Force.

Anyone returning through an Australian international airport will be sent to a hotel or other facility for 14 days of isolation, no matter what their health condition.

Thousands of hotel rooms currently unoccupied due to a massive drop in tourists will be made available at no cost to the passengers.

Almost two-thirds of the more than 3000 cases of coronavirus recorded in Australia are among people who have returned from overseas.

But the plan has sparked a funding row between the NSW and federal governments.

“The people of NSW are not going to pay for people from other states to stay for two weeks in our hotels,” NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said.

“We may as well throw in a BridgeClimb.”

Coles hiring thousands more staff

Coles says it has hired thousands of extra staff in the past two weeks, including 600 in SA, as it ramps up to meet increased customer demand during the pandemic crisis.

It’s now recruiting to fill another 5000 positions to serve customers and replenish shelves in supermarkets and liquor stores and deliver online orders to Coles and wants another 100 qualified bakers.

Coles CEO Steven Cain said the company was working with major employers and unions to find jobs for people laid off in past weeks.

“To ensure we could act quickly, we streamlined our recruitment processes and assigned a dedicated team to fast track applications sent by corporate partners like Australian Venue Company and Virgin Australia,” he said.

“We have seen a lot of demand for roles, and where we have positions available, we are making sure that we can get people into them as quickly as possible.

More millions for aviation industry

The Morrison government has launched a further two new packages to help prevent the aviation sector being grounded during the coronavirus crisis, totalling $298 million.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said $198 million is being provided to support regional airlines struggling through the crisis, with another $100 million available to smaller regional airlines should they need it.

This brings the government’s total commitment to the aviation sector to more than $1 billion during an unprecedented downturn in aviation activity.

“Regional aviation has been smashed by COVID-19,” McCormack said.

“This package guarantees core routes for domestic air freight will remain open and essential workers remain employed, while providing vital financial support for airlines servicing regional and remote locations.”

But McCormack ruled out nationalising struggling airlines.

“It is not the government’s intention to nationalise airlines,” he said.

“We want them to continue to be commercial operations. We want the aviation sector to come out the other side as best it can.”

He said there are 26,000 people employed in the regional aviation sector that is worth billions of dollars to rural communities.

This week Virgin Australia announced more than 1000 of its 8000 workers that have been asked to take leave will probably be made redundant, including all 220 Tigerair pilots.

Last week Qantas stood down 20,000 of its 30,000 workers,

Boris has coronavirus

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has confirmed he has coronavirus.

Johnson’s office said he was tested after showing mild symptoms, is self-isolating and continuing to lead Britain’s response to the pandemic.

“Be in no doubt that I can continue, thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team, to lead the national fightback against coronavirus,” Johnson said in a video message, adding that he had a temperature and persistent cough.

Johnson will have his meals delivered to the door of an apartment at Number 11 Downing Street while he self-isolates for seven days from the warren of corridors and rooms that make up the seat of British political power at Number 10 Downing Street.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has been at the forefront of the country’s response to the outbreak, also was confirmed to have the virus.

Britain has recorded more than 14,500 coronavirus cases and the death toll had risen to 759 as of Thursday afternoon – up by nearly a third in 24 hours.

It is the seventh highest official death toll after Italy, Spain, China, Iran, the United States and France.

Italy, Spain deaths soar

Italy recorded its single biggest rise in deaths, with 969 more victims yesterday, to bring its total number of fatalities to 9134.

The country now has 86,498 cases, surpassing China to record the grim distinction of the second-most infections in the world behind the US.

Spain’s Health Ministry reported another 7800 infections overnight for a total of 64,059 and deaths climbed by 769 to 4858 – the world’s second-highest total after Italy’s 8214 fatalities.

Spain says 9444 health workers have contracted the coronavirus – nearly 15 per cent of the total number of cases.

US passes 100,000 infections, New York to build temporary hospitals

New York plans to build eight temporary hospitals to meet an expected surge in coronavirus patients.

Governor Andrew Cuomo says the hard-hit state expects demand for hospital capacity will peak in three weeks.

New York has accounted for about one third of the US death toll and half its cases.

Cuomo said 44,635 people have tested positive in New York, up about 7400 from Thursday, and that 519 New Yorkers have died from the virus, up from the previous day’s total of 385 deaths.

The United States now has the most coronavirus cases of any country, with more than 100,000 infections and 1500 deaths.

The World Health Organisation has said it expected the US to become the epicentre of the pandemic.

Trump orders General Motors to make ventilators

US President Donald Trump has invoked emergency powers to make General Motors build ventilators for coronavirus patients after he accused the carmaker of “wasting time” during negotiations.

Trump, for the first time invoked the Defence Production Act, saying GM was not moving quickly enough, with the company announcing it would begin building ventilators in the coming weeks.

GM said in a statement in response that it has been working with ventilator firm Ventec Life Systems and GM suppliers “around the clock for over a week to meet this urgent need” and said its commitment to Ventec’s ventilators “has never wavered.”

“They said they were going to give us 40,000 much needed ventilators, ‘very quickly’,” Trump said on Twitter of GM and Ventec’s effort. “Now they are saying it will only be 6000, in late April, and they want top dollar.”

Democrats have urged Trump to invoke the Defence Production Act to produce more medical supplies, but the president had been reluctant to do so until now.

IMF says world in recession

The head of the International Monetary Fund says it is clear that the global economy has now entered a recession that could be as bad or worse than the 2009 downturn.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said the 189-member lending agency was forecasting a recovery in 2021, saying it could be a “sizable rebound”.

But she said this would only occur if countries succeed in containing the coronavirus and limiting the economic damage.

“A key concern about a long-lasting impact of the sudden stop of the world economy is the risk of a wave of bankruptcies and lay-offs that not only can undermine the recovery but erode the fabric of our societies,” she said at a news conference on Friday.

Georgieva spoke to reporters following a telephone conference with finance officials from the 24 countries that make up the IMF’s policy-setting panel.

She repeated a pledge that the IMF stood ready to make all $US1 trillion of its lending resources available to countries being hit by the virus.

“We have seen an extraordinary spike in requests for IMF emergency financing,” Georgieva said.

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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