Prime Minister Scott Morrison has defended his decision not to recommend the closure of the nation’s schools, as some private education providers defy government advice under pressure from parents. Morrison warned on Wednesday night that closing schools in response to COVID-19 could see them shuttered until Christmas, and that it would potentially impact on the medical workforce as doctors and nurses stay home to care for their kids. He cited Singapore as an example of a place that chose not to close schools, but that country goes further than Australia in requiring daily temperature checks of students. Shadow health minister Chris Bowen cited Norway’s move to close education facilities but employ a skeleton staff to teach the children of health workers as an alternative. A number of private schools are moving fully online regardless, although the federal government has successfully lobbied Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, to block a bid by Catholic Schools NSW to impose a total shutdown of its education facilities.
Australian travellers are struggling to abide by federal government advice to return home, left stranded in countries that have imposed total lockdowns. Australian Darrell Cruse, who is stuck in Peru, told SBS News “it is lockdown here, you're not allowed to leave your building.” The number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus worldwide surpassed 200,000 on Wednesday, with Italy reeling from a further 475 deaths, the highest single-day total yet, and France also recording 89 fatalities. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, security minister Fahrudin Radoncic called for the confinement of asylum seekers to encampments surrounded by barbed wire to prevent the spread of COVID-19, despite having no evidence linking them to the country’s 40 cases. Eurovision became the latest high-profile event to be cancelled.
The Reserve Bank of Australia is expected to cut rates to a record low of 0.25 per cent today. The move comes as major banks are in talks ($) with the Morrison government over a move to see taxpayers underwrite loans to small and medium-sized firms as part of a second economic rescue package. Meanwhile, the federal government is seeking to loosen superannuation financial hardship laws so those who lose income due to the downturn get early access to retirement savings, The Australian Financial Review ($) reports. Politicians are being inundated with requests from people wanting to access their super, but do not want to threaten the liquidity position of super funds heavily invested in infrastructure assets.
In other news: The New Zealand Parliament has voted to decriminalise abortion, with 68 in favour and 51 votes opposing the proposal. The legislation removes a legal test for having the procedure earlier than 20 weeks. After that time, people will still be able to access abortions, but only after proving to one health practitioner that an abortion is “clinically appropriate.”