Australia Says Lockdown an Option in Face of COVID-19

By AAP
March 14, 2020 Updated: March 14, 2020
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Australia’s Federal, state and territory leaders will discuss developments in the spread of COVID-19 and the needed response during a phone link-up on Sunday.

The Morrison government has warned all options are on the table to help tackle the spread of the coronavirus, which my include school closures in the future and even a complete lockdown of the country similar to Italy, France, and Spain.

“Everything is up for consideration,” Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy told national broadcaster ABC television’s Insiders Program on Sunday.

The new national cabinet to deal with COVID-19 will come together via a phone hook-up at midday on Sunday.

The weekly gathering was agreed at Friday’s Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting and is made up of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the six premiers and two chief ministers, as well as key federal ministers and medical experts like Professor Murphy.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told Insiders the question of school closures will be very much guided by medical advice as the number of virus cases in Australia rises above 250.

Murphy said he did not want to move too early on something like that because of the risk of taking parents out of the workforce to look after their children, particularly if they are in the health and medical sector.

“One of the interesting and positive aspects of this virus is that there have been very few reports of symptomatic infection in children,” he said.

“What we don’t know is whether children are getting infected but just don’t get symptoms. They can still spread it or they’re not getting infected. The former is probably more likely.”

He felt next week’s federal parliamentary sitting should go ahead after meeting with its presiding officers on Saturday, who are looking at a range of measures to reduce the number of people in the building including staff and visitors.

Australians more broadly are being urged to play their part to help stem the spread of the coronavirus as part of a national campaign.

A letter from Morrison, Hunt, and Murphy ran in newspapers across the country on Sunday, along with the latest information on COVID-19.

It urges people to wash their hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes, and dispose of tissues, and avoid contact with others if they’re feeling unwell.

“Australia has one of the best health systems in the world with some of the most dedicated and experienced health professionals,” the letter reads.

“Containing the spread of an infection like COVID-19 comes down to every Australian playing their part by looking after their own hygiene, looking out for each other, and staying informed.”

People are also being urged only to be tested for the illness if they are experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms and have recently returned from overseas, or have been in contact with a confirmed case.

Advertisements with these messages will also run on television, radio, online and at more than 2,200 outdoor sites from the weekend.

Across the Tasman, the New Zealand government has announced that all incoming passengers will be subject to a 14-day quarantine period, from midnight on Sunday.

The move has had consequences for cricket, with Australia’s Chappell-Hadlee one-day series against New Zealand abandoned while the international Super Rugby competition will be suspended after this weekend’s games.

The COAG meeting heeded expert advice that all non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people in Australia should be cancelled from Monday.

Major events the Melbourne Grand Prix, Sydney’s Easter Show and Vivid light festival have been canned.