As Australia’s coronavirus count rises exponentially, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has declared a national human biosecurity emergency and announced a ban on all non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.
In the press conference that took place on Wednesday morning, the Prime Minister issued a blanket “do not travel” advice for all Australians for the first time in history.
Despite this, the Prime Minister has reiterated the government’s position that schools should remain open, saying that any moves to close schools would have to last for six months and could threaten “tens of thousands of jobs” of parents who have to stay home.
Schools to remain open
The Prime Minister said closing schools could cut available medical professionals by 30 per cent, and that keeping schools open is in the “national public interest”.
“I’m happy to follow for my kids, for Jenny and my kids, is the same health advice I am asking all other parents around the country to follow,” the Prime Minister said.
“As a father, I’m happy for my kids to go to school. There is only one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell. As parents, you are in the best position to know if your children are unwell.
“Whatever we do we have to do for at least six months. That means the disruption that would occur from the closure of schools around this country, make no mistake, would be severe.
“That will put peoples’ lives at risk. Let’s keep our heads as parents when it comes to this. Let’s do the right thing by the country and by each other and follow the proper advice. There is a national public interest here in keeping schools open.”
National Cabinet leaders also agreed on the advice that university and higher education “should continue at this time” with risk mitigation measures, including working from home arrangements where effective.
Gathering restrictions increase
The restrictions on non-essential indoor gatherings, announced on Wednesday, will have drastic effects on the operating procedures of pubs, cinemas and restaurants, and could force many small businesses to close altogether.
Weddings and funerals across the country will also be significantly impacted by the new laws.
Further guidelines on these new restrictions will be discussed at next National Cabinet meeting on Friday 20 March 2020. In the meantime, venues are told to continue to apply social distancing and hygiene practices, including being able to maintain a distance of 1.5 metres between patrons.
A statement released on Wednesday morning by Scott Morrison’s office states that settings such as gyms, indoor fitness centres and swimming pools are not required to close at this time, providing they meet the social distancing and hygiene requirements.
The ban on all non-essential gatherings outdoors remains at a maximum of 500 people.
Morrison said there would be no short-term, quick fix to deal with the COVID-19 crisis in Australia, and warned that “tens of thousands of jobs” could be lost.