Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the latest measures are tough but necessary to stop COVID-19. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS

politics

Jobless queues to grow amid virus shutdown

2020-03-25 22:21:49

Shuttered shops, empty streets and queues at Centrelink offices will be the new normal as tighter restrictions on businesses, community facilities and public spaces come into effect from midnight.

But it will come at a cost.

The crackdown will lead to wider job losses as more businesses are forced to draw the shutters for what could be months.

Scenes of thousands of people queuing at Centrelink offices around the country have underscored the seriousness of the issue.

Economists predict 814,000 Australians will be added to dole queues before the end of June.

Centrelink is rapidly recruiting an extra 5000 staff to deal with the influx of demand.

But Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says while the Centrelink queues are heartbreaking, the alternative is worse.

“What we don’t want is queues for people who need a machine to help them breathe. We cannot have people queuing for intensive care beds. That will mean they will die,” he said in Melbourne on Wednesday.

“We’ve got to buy time … if you can stay home, you must stay home. No dinner party, no shopping trip is worth a life.”

Officials are battling to stop the spread of the coronavirus and prevent the nation’s health system becoming overloaded.

The number of cases in Australia rose again overnight, with 2252 people now having caught the disease.

Of those with the virus, 197 people are in hospital with 17 in intensive care. Nine people have died, the latest a 68-year-old Queensland man who had been on a cruise ship that docked last week.

Nearly 163,000 people have been tested so far.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the infectiousness of the virus was such that one sick person could lead to 400 more contracting the disease within a month if they didn’t stick to distancing and quarantine measures.

“That is the disaster situation we’ve been seeing in other countries. That is what we are trying to prevent,” he said.

“This is a wake-up call. No one is immune to this. Many of us will get sick from it. Some of us will get severely sick and end up in hospital … and some of us, as we’ve seen already, unfortunately, will pass away from this disease.”

All non-urgent elective surgery has been put on indefinite hold in a bid to free up capacity across the hospital system.

And Australians are receiving stern warnings to keep their distance from other people, as governments appear set to start tracking the movements of people who catch the disease.

“The most urgent message … is to stay home if you’re sick, ” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

“It is also important that people should stay home when they’re in self-isolation.

“Our instruction (to healthy people) is, more generally, stay home unless you’re going out for essentials.”

The government is sending text messages telling Australians: “Stop the spread, stay 1.5m from others, follow rules on social gatherings, wash hands, stay home if sick”.

An expanded list of businesses will be forced to close their doors at midnight on Wednesday with an emphasis on stopping large gatherings.

Open house inspections and auctions are banned as are personal services such as beauty therapy, waxing, tattoo parlours and massage.

Most community facilities will also close, including libraries, swimming pools, RSL clubs, galleries and community centres.

Weddings will be restricted to the couple, celebrant and two witnesses only, while funerals can only have a maximum of 10 mourners.

State governments will also be policing social gatherings in public spaces – even parents grouping together at playgrounds – and in people’s houses.

Pubs, clubs, sit-in cafes and restaurants have already been closed.

Schools are remaining open although many jurisdictions have encouraged parents to keep their children at home and do distance learning if they can.

The government has also used biosecurity laws to ban Australians from travelling overseas after concerns that some people weren’t heeding the “do not travel” warning slapped on the entire world.

The NSW and Victorian leaders have flagged a third wave of lockdowns in their states, where the virus is more widespread, and Mr Morrison said it was preferable that all jurisdictions move together.

He insisted governments would not act recklessly or take unnecessary actions when they knew it could lead to the loss of people’s livelihoods.

The government has set up a co-ordination commission, led by former Fortescue Metals head Neville Power, to advise on how to tackle the severe economic and social problems arising from the health crisis.