Monday, March 30, 2020

New restrictions on gatherings and evictions

The national coronavirus cabinet has agreed to a six-month moratorium on evictions and to limit gatherings to a maximum of two people. Speaking after a Sunday night meeting with state leaders, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said “states and territories will be moving to put a moratorium on evictions of persons as a result of financial distress” for private renters, with a similar announcement expected today ($) for commercial tenancies. The two-person limit for public gatherings does not apply to households, education, employment, funerals or weddings. Public playgrounds, outdoor gyms and skate parks will all be closed. Australians are advised to remain at home unless for work, exercise, medical care, or essential shopping. People aged 70 or over are advised to stay at home wherever possible, as well as over-60s with chronic illness, and indigenous people over the age of 50. Morrison said they can still go outside but should avoid contact with people other than their support person. 

All foreign investment in Australia will now require approval from the Foreign Investment Review Board, as the federal government seeks to prevent international takeovers of local companies struggling through the coronavirus pandemic. The change comes as the federal government prepares to unveil the details of its third economic rescue package. Wage subsidies to keep employees tied to their employers are under consideration.  

From today, Australians will be able to access bulk-billed telehealth consultations with health professionals, as part of a $1.1 billion government funding boost. The news comes as Australian scientists announced they had developed a free diagnostic tool that trained doctors to spot COVID-19 in CT scans of patients’ lungs. University of Sydney professor Patrick Brennan, chief executive of the company behind the solution, told The Sydney Morning Herald current testing only showed whether patients had COVID-19, whereas the new tool revealed the severity of the infection, information that had the potential to save thousands of lives. Australia recorded another two COVID-19 deaths to bring the country’s total to 16, with a total of 3966 confirmed cases.

The global death toll from COVID-19 exceeded 33,000 on Sunday, with Spain suffering its worst day yet, recording 838 deaths in a 24-hour period and bringing the total number in the country to 6528. Italy’s death toll rose to 10,779, with a further 756 victims on Sunday. Speaking at his weekly blessing, Pope Francis threw his support behind a call by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for an “immediate global ceasefire” so the world can focus on fighting the coronavirus pandemic. 


“Australia has reached a critical point in its fight against coronavirus, with the next few days set to determine whether the health system can cope, or the infection rate explodes beyond capacity. Leaders, officials and external advisers working on the entwined strategies to manage both the dire health emergency and the tanking economy agree the explosion can be prevented only if Australians immediately distance themselves from one another.”


“So the Nationals find themselves in a curious situation. Two of the party’s most talented politicians – Joyce the former leader, and Canavan the rising star – languish on the back bench, freelancing on air and taking pot shots at the government. The situation is so unstable, it can’t last. Joyce and McCormack represent two sides of a smouldering argument over the future of the party, and nobody knows how it will resolve.”


“Morrison’s response to this crisis is piecemeal and shambolic. His press conference on Tuesday night was the sort of policy improvisation that could have started with the words ‘Yes, and…’ Two weeks ago he was going to the football. The prime minister is balancing the health of the public against the health of the economy, and doing neither very well. Each is hurting the other. What is needed in both areas is large-scale and decisive action.”


“The Artania is one of two cruise ships berthed at Fremantle, with Australians disembarking the Vasco da Gama set to be quarantined on Rottnest Island or in Perth hotels for two weeks from tomorrow. Almost 100 New Zealand passengers were flown out overnight and were due to arrive in Auckland today. A third cruise ship anchored near Garden Island, the Magnifica, was expected to leave WA today, with Mr McGowan saying the cruise ships had been a ‘nightmare’.”


“More than 1800 Australians are stranded at sea on cruise ships as countries close their borders to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is monitoring around 18 cruise ships located across the globe. A spokesman for the department would not say when those stuck on the ships could expect to come home, but said communication lines were open.”


“Coronavirus quarantine has led to an interesting trend in fashion: sales for tops are up, and sales for pants are down. Millions of workers, typically bound to business or business-casual attire in the office, are now free to lounge around their homes in hoodies and sweatpants. But tops still play an important role as many employees will get semi-dressed for video conference calls.”

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