Australians are likely to have to change their way of life for at least six months as parts of the nation shut down to combat the coronavirus spread, the prime minister has warned.
Scott Morrison’s acknowledgement of the timeframe comes as states and territories declare public health emergencies, giving officials greater powers to detain people or restrict movements.
He’s also looking at ways to further boost the economy.
Morrison called for the nation to work together to slow the spread of the virus, acknowledging Australians will face greater restrictions as they seek to carry on with their lives.
“This will be a difficult six months. It could be longer. It could be sooner than that,” he told ABC radio on Monday.
The number of cases in Australia doubled over the weekend to more than 350, while the deaths of a 77-year-old and 90-year-old took the toll to five.
The country’s deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said 80 percent of cases would be mild and not require hospitalisation.
Anzac Day services and marches have been cancelled in NSW, Western Australia and Tasmania with other states reviewing their commemorations, while some schools around the country are planning to close.
Non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people have been banned, all people arriving from overseas must quarantine themselves for 14 days, and cruise ships are barred from Australian ports for at least 30 days.
People arriving in Australia will be allowed to transit to their home state if they are well upon arrival, but not if they’re sick.
— Australian Government Department of Health (@healthgovau) March 16, 2020
The nation’s top medical officers met on Monday afternoon to consider whether leaders should place further restrictions on indoor gatherings.
“So whether there should be some specific information in relation to gatherings in enclosed spaces, as compared with ones that are outside—a football stadium versus a pub for example,” Professor Kelly told reporters in Canberra.
Meanwhile, the prime minister, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann considered further economic measures.
The government last week announced A$17.6 billion in support for small and medium businesses and cash payments to people on welfare, but recognises there will be a deeper-than-expected economic impact.
Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said the initial package isn’t enough to avert a recession.
Poor business confidence means they’re unlikely to take advantage of depreciation measures while pensioners and people on welfare are likely to save much of their cash payment.
“If we don’t get these businesses to survive and we lose good companies during this period, the recovery phase is going to be a lot more difficult for the economy,” Evans said.
“If people lose their jobs, it’s very hard for them to get their jobs back.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said individual workers were going to need more help.
“There are many casuals and sole traders, the sort of people who work one-on-one, by themselves effectively, as contract workers – they are going to be severely hit in some circumstances by this downturn,” he told Sky News.
Aviation market analysts CAPA warned that without government assistance, the massive drop off in travel means most of the world’s airlines will be bankrupt by the end of May.
Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham acknowledged the impacts on travel and the tourism industry are dire.
“This is going to go on for some time and I fear it will get worse before it gets better,” he told radio station 4CA in Cairns.
The Reserve Bank has pumped extra liquidity into banks to ensure people have access to credit, and financial regulators announced they would meet the big banks and lenders to talk about supporting those who may struggle with mortgage repayments.
Queensland, Victoria, the ACT, and South Australia have declared a state of emergency while Tasmania will force all people coming to the island state to fill out passenger arrival cards.
Professor Kelly said it remained the situation that most people in Australia who had the disease had caught it overseas, but the nation was at a “tipping point” with new cases having no overseas link.
Asked whether people should start working from home, he said Australians needed to start thinking about what could be done in terms of personal isolation.
By Katina Curtis, AAP Senior Political Writer