Prime Minister Scott Morrison overnight announced tougher restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus, with the new restrictions to apply from midnight on Wednesday.
Speaking at a press conference late on Tuesday night, Morrison said foods courts in shopping centres would be closed to eat-in customers but permitted to serve takeaway meals, while personal services including beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons, and tattoo parlours would be forced to close.
All libraries, museums and galleries will also close, as will amusement parks, arcades, swimming pools and children’s play centres. Hairdressers and barbers will be permitted to continue offering services as long as they maintained social distancing rules and only had clients in store for 30 minutes or less.
Weddings may continue, but only with the couple, the celebrant and witnesses, totalling a maximum of five people. Funerals will be limited to no more than 10 people at a service, while personal training and boot camps will also be limited to a maximum of 10 people.
Morrison urged Australians to stay home except for essential trips and to keep social gatherings at home to a very small number of guests.
“Stay at home unless it’s absolutely necessary that you go out,” he said. “Going out for the basics, going out for exercise, perhaps with your partner or family members, provided it’s a small group – that’s fine, but going outside and going out and participating more broadly in the community, unless you’re shopping for basics or there are medical needs or you’re providing care or support to another individual in another place, going to work and where you cannot work from home [is not fine].
“Visits to your premises, to your house, to your residence, should be kept to a minimum and with very small numbers of guests. So that means barbecues of lots of friends, or even family, extended family, coming together to celebrate one-year-old birthday parties and those sorts of things, we can’t do those things now.”
In extreme cases, where people refused to comply with the restrictions, large groups would be “moved on”, Morrison warned.
Aussies will also no longer be allowed to leave the country, lifting the government’s advice from a “do not travel” warning to a flat travel ban. Morrison said this was necessary due to the number of people who have defied the ‘do not travel’ advice to take holidays.
“It strikes me on those numbers that there are people defying that advice and still looking to go overseas on leisure travel,” he said. “They can’t do it because when they come home, that’s when they put Australians at risk. I had hoped that would have been fully complied with and I’ve got to say, Australians have been pretty good about it. But we need to put that arrangement in place.”
The PM also announced in a press conference this morning that all elective surgery, other than Category 1 (surgery recommended within 30 days) and urgent Category 2 (surgery recommended within 90 days) cases, will be suspended.
“This will apply in both the public and the private hospital system,” he said. “Cancellation of elective surgery will allow the preservation of resources like personal protective equipment and allow health services to prepare for their role in the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, this had already largely been implemented for Category 1 and Category 2, and what this means is a further scaling back of those elective surgeries in Category 2.”
The move to tougher restrictions comes days after the government announced that all non-essential services across the country would be forced to close their doors from midday on March 23. Under the ‘stage one’ measures pubs, night clubs, casinos, gyms, and indoor sporting venues, cinemas and entertainment venues were closed.
Responding to Australians calling for a more complete lockdown, the prime minister on Tuesday night warned them to “careful what you wish for”, as he emphasised the delicate balance he needed to maintain between managing the coronavirus health crisis and risking a full economic shutdown and the risk of long-term damage to the economy.
“Every single job that is being done in our economy with these severe restrictions that are taking place is essential,” he said, adding that it was vital that all Australians who were able to work did so.
“We’re dealing with two crises,” Morrison added. “We’re dealing with a health crisis that has caused an economic crisis. And I am very concerned about the economic crisis that could also take a great toll on people’s lives, not just their livelihoods, the stresses that that will put on families. The things that can happen when families are under stress. I’m as concerned about those outcomes as I am about the health outcomes of managing the outbreak of the coronavirus. And it is a delicate task for the National Cabinet to balance those two. Lives are at risk in both cases.”
Meanwhile, the country’s Chief Medical Office Prof Brendan Murphy expressed frustration with the Australians who were flouting the rules designed to protect other people from confirmed coronavirus cases.
“People coming back from some countries, and you know which ones they are, have a high risk now of carrying the coronavirus and they are the people who’ve largely led to the spread of the virus in our community over recent weeks,” Prof Murphy said. “So return travellers, please stay at home. Don’t go anywhere on the way from the airport or the cruise ship or wherever you’re from.
“You must not go to the chemist when you’ve been told you’ve got the disease. Some people have been doing things like being told they’re a positive case and going into the chemist or the supermarket on the way home.”