Australia Outlines New Social Distancing Rules, Among Other Measures to Stem COVID-19 Spread

March 20, 2020 Updated: March 20, 2020
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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday afternoon introduced a new social distancing rule, expanding the required distancing per person to four square meters for indoor gatherings, which have already been restricted to 100 people.

The limit comes along with a slew of other measures to help stem the spread of COVID-19.

That means a room of 100 square meters should only have 25 people in it. Such measures will affect offices, restaurants, and other places. The 4-meter limit also applies to outdoor gatherings, exempting food markets. However, food markets must still limit foot traffic and ensure that stalls are not too overpopulated to reduce transmission risk.

People should keep about 1.5 meters from others, and those who feel unwell must stay home, Morrison said.

“There will be cases of community contact where it’s not suspected and they might just get a sniffle or a cold, the sort of thing that many of us have soldiered through,” he said. “We can’t do that anymore. Nobody should be going to work or mixing with society or friends, or going out if they are unwell at all.

“Stay at home if you’re unwell,” he said.

Australia now has 756 confirmed cases and 7 deaths.

On Schools and Travel

Schools will remain open for now, but NAPLAN testing has been canceled for the year.

“Our strategy is in for the next six months to keep schools open and we think that risk is appropriate,” Morrison said.

He added that Australians should “reconsider any unnecessary travel” when asked whether people should cancel any domestic holiday flights now ahead of possible further restrictions.

Morrison said that the national cabinet will consider on Tuesday whether any further travel restrictions will apply over the Easter school holidays.

The advice comes after Thursday’s announcement that all non-Australian citizens or non-residents will be banned from entering the country from 9 p.m. Friday. Only direct family members will still be allowed. All who enter Australia including citizens and residents will be subject to a 14-day quarantine, as per a previously announced rule.

Non-essential travel to remote indigenous communities will be banned under the Biosecurity Act, Morrison said.

Other Measures

Australia’s big four banks have offered to defer loan repayments from small- and medium-sized businesses for six months. This follows a move by the Reserve Bank to cut interest rates to 0.25 percent to relieve pressure on lenders.

The Australian Federal budget is now delayed until Oct. 6.

Morrison told reporters that the government has no plans to nationalize major companies that provide key services, such as those in the aviation industry.

Morrison said that states and territories may nominate specific areas that will be subject to entry restrictions, to minimize the spread into vulnerable communities.

The federal government is giving an additional A$444.6 million to support aged care facilities.

“That is on top of the more than A$100 million that I announced last week in relation to workforce support across the country for aged care,” Morrison said.

With regard to housing, states are “working to identify how relief can be provided for tenants in both commercial tenancies and residential tenancies to ensure that in hardship conditions, there will be relief that will be available, and ensuring that tenancy legislation is protecting those tenants over the next six months at least,” Morrison said.

Rental assistance is expected to flow to people who are forced to move onto welfare payments.

The Australian Associated Press contributed to this report.

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