Monday, March 16, 2020

Global lockdown as virus spreads

Australia is just one of dozens of countries to impose tight new restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19, as a sharply rising death toll in Italy and Spain serves as a warning to the world. In the space of 24 hours, the Spanish death toll doubled to 288 on Sunday, and Italian fatalities rose by 368 to a new total of 1809. Spain has followed Italy in imposing a near-total lockdown to contain the spread of the virus, with people only permitted to leave their homes for essential needs. India and South Africa are among the latest countries to impose strict border controls, as cases begin to rise in both countries. In Germany, where border restrictions have been imposed on European Union neighbours, local news outlets are reporting that the United States has attempted to buy the exclusive rights to a vaccine being developed by a German company.

COVID-19 in Australia: The Australian death toll has risen to five, after New South Wales authorities confirmed the deaths of two elderly women in NSW were linked to the virus. Meanwhile, the federal government did not commission a coronavirus awareness campaign until a month after the first case was recorded, reports Guardian Australia. In Victoria, elective surgeries are being fast-tracked to free up hospital beds in the coming months, while the State Library of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria and Museums Victoria's sites will all be closed to the public from today, reports The Age. Schools in New South Wales and Tasmania ($) are among those to have imposed social distancing measures. South Australia has formally declared a public health emergency ($), unlocking additional powers to control the population. Meanwhile supermodel Miranda Kerr has been criticised for spreading the “dangerous’’ advice ($) of a controversial “medical medium’’ promoting an unproven cure for COVID-19.

Calls for wage freeze: The Australian reports that Master Grocers Australia has called for a one-year wage freeze in response to economic challenges posed by COVID-19. The body, which represents 4000 independent supermarkets, liquor, timber and hardware stores such as those that operate under IGA, FoodWorks and Mitre 10, made the submission to the Fair Work Commission’s annual minimum wage review.

SAS war crime allegations: A Four Corners investigation to air tonight details new allegations that unarmed civilians were killed by Australian special forces in Afghanistan in potential war crimes. A former SAS soldier told the ABC he witnessed three incidents involving what he described as the murder of Afghans. “If they go to a criminal trial, I do believe they'll be found guilty,” he said.


“‘For six years,’ says Wayne Swan, ‘there virtually wasn’t a day where they didn’t pour shit all over me, telling lies about the effectiveness of the stimulus.’ The former treasurer, who saw Australia through the global financial crisis, feels he’s entitled to express a little righteous indignation just now … long before the bushfires or the coronavirus pandemic, the Reserve Bank, among many others, was calling for the government to boost spending.”


“The final bid for George Pell’s freedom began with a test of faith. Addressing the full bench of the High Court in Canberra this week, the cardinal’s silk, Bret Walker, SC, drew his line in the sand: believing the surviving victim was not enough to convict Pell to six years in prison for historical child sexual abuse. Faith can be wrong, he argued. Faith is slippery.”


“Using a bleak detention centre in outback South Australia as the nexus for our ongoing national obsession with border protection, the show focuses on a secured zone where stasis is a weapon: refugee claims are not processed and conditions are designed to wear down detainees. One newcomer sights a man – catatonically hunched over, clutching a suitcase – and is told that’s what seven years without hope looks like.”


“Christchurch Muslims are praying at home on the first anniversary of the mosque shootings after the official national memorial service was cancelled over coronavirus fears ... Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she took the ‘pragmatic’ and precautionary approach to call it off yesterday afternoon. ‘We're very saddened to cancel, but in remembering such a terrible tragedy, we shouldn't create the risk of further harm being done,’ Ardern said.”


“Australia’s Labor opposition has used the anniversary of the Christchurch massacre to call for a review of the criteria used to judge terrorist organisations, citing the fact no rightwing extremist groups are listed in Australia. The shadow home affairs minister, Kristina Keneally, has proposed the Morrison government allow the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security to review the criteria to ensure they are fit for purpose.”


“Quarantined in their own homes and balconies, many are using music to connect with the outside world, and show love and support to their neighbours. Tenor Maurizio Marchini did just this, taking to his balcony to serenade the rooftops of his hometown, Florence. Marchini sings Puccini's impassioned aria from his opera Turandot, ‘Nessun Dorma’, or ‘None shall sleep’. After the aria’s climax with a high B, Maurizio picks up his son and repeats the line Vincerò!, or ‘I will be victorious.’”

Max Opray is Schwartz Media’s morning editor and a freelance writer.