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More deaths as Australian cases slow but lockdowns to stay

National

Australia’s daily increase of coronavirus cases has slowed dramatically in recent days, but authorities say strict social distancing measures must continue and be enforced for months to come.

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 There are 4860 confirmed cases nationally, with 23 deaths, following three deaths overnight in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

But the average daily increase in cases has been at nine per cent for the past three days, down from 25-30 per cent a week ago.

Health officials are encouraged Australia’s coronavirus curve is flattening but insist the strict restrictions that have helped slow the infection rate must stay in place.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly says all measures need to remain in place, particularly with winter and the flu season approaching.

“In terms of the measures that have been introduced, I think there (are) good signs now that that is actually working as we had expected,” he said on Wednesday.

“This is full credit to the Australian public who have really taken on enormous changes in their lives over the last few weeks.”

NSW police say coronavirus isolation rules will last for at least 90 days, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian saying it was no time to be complacent.

“The acceleration of cases in NSW isn’t growing, which is a good thing,” she said.

“So, we know that we’re having some level of success in reducing the spread. But we have to maintain our vigilance. We are at a very critical phase.”

Queensland to seal border

Hundreds of people are still trying to get into Queensland despite the state shutting down its border with NSW.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is ramping up Queensland’s coronavirus crackdown as people continue to ignore the ban on non-essential travel.

From Friday, anyone who does not have a state government permit proving they have a legitimate reason for cross-border travel will be denied entry.

Freight trucks are exempt, along with travel for work and medical reasons.

“We are still getting hundreds of people coming across our border,” she said.

“No permit, no pass come Friday.”

Palaszczuk said all Australians must prepare for a long period living under severe restrictions, including not leaving home unless it’s really necessary.

“The minimum I’m hearing is six months. If we flatten that curve, we are not going to reach the peaks until well into the middle of this year,” she said.

Govt bans export of masks, sanitiser

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has raised concerns drugs and other medical supplies are being hoarded to sell overseas during the coronavirus pandemic.

The federal government has announced a crackdown on price gouging and banned the export of masks, hand sanitiser, alcohol wipes and other supplies.

Dutton said he was particularly concerned about pharmaceutical products being bought for profit.

“Where we’re talking about medical supplies being diverted from our country at a time when we need those medical supplies for Australian citizens then that is a very serious problem,” he told 2GB radio on Thursday.

Dutton said profiteering and diverting goods overseas had been made illegal.

“That is conduct which is unacceptable. It’s contrary to our national interest and that’s why we’re taking the decisions we have.”

Dutton said there had been significant downturns in demand for food and other essential items in recent days as panic buying subsides.

He said people had no reason to think supplies could run out.

“We’re not going to close supermarkets in any circumstance,” he said.

Energy bill help for small business

Energy networks across South Australia, Victoria and NSW have outlined several key measures to support customers doing it tough.

“Networks understand these are extraordinarily tough times for small business and energy bill relief will really help,” Energy Networks Australia chief executive Andrew Dillon said.

“Networks will work with energy retailers to ensure the benefits of this package flow through to customers smoothly.”

Mothballed small businesses will not need to pay gas or electricity charges from April until June, if their consumption was less than a quarter of what it was last year.

Network charges will be repaid to small businesses shuttered as a result of COVID-19, as well as residential customers who go into default.

Large retailers that go onto payment plans or hardship arrangements will have their network charges deferred.

No residential or small business customers in financial distress will be disconnected without their consent until at least July 31.

Large businesses which on-sell energy to places like residential parks or retirement village have been promised the same timeline.

Disconnection and reconnection fees will not be imposed on small businesses that have temporarily closed, and they will not pay daily supply charges.

Planned outages will also be kept to a minimum over the next few months.

Airline’s bailout request hits turbulence

The federal government has reportedly indicated it will not provide Virgin Australia with a $1.4 billion loan that the airline has requested.

The Australian Financial Review cites sources as saying the government’s stance that the country needs two major airlines didn’t necessarily mean that Virgin was ensured of a bail-out, with authorities instead open to the idea of making it easier for a new company to compete with Qantas.

If Virgin failed, “steps will be taken to get another carrier to enter the market,” a government source reportedly told the newspaper.

Virgin announced last week it was standing down about 8000 of its 10,000 workers and it would cut its domestic capacity by 90 per cent amid a drop in demand for flights during the coronavirus pandemic.

-with AAP

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