Australia declares emergency, invokes new powers to fight coronavirus

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday “a human biosecurity emergency” and said that citizens of the country should abandon all travel abroad due to the epidemic of coronavirus.

The official statement gives the government the power to close cities or regions, impose curfews and order people to quarantine, if deemed necessary to contain the spread of the virus.

The upgrading of official advice to an unprecedented “level 4: do not travel” in any country in the world has been accompanied by a ban on all non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.

“Life is changing in Australia, as it is changing all over the world,” said Morrison during a televised press conference. “Life will continue to change as we deal with the global coronavirus. It is a centennial event. “

Australia has recorded nearly 500 coronavirus infections and six deaths, a relatively small number compared to other countries, but officials are increasingly concerned about the prospect of an exponential increase in cases.

The most populous state in New South Wales, reported its largest one-day increase in new cases on Wednesday, as well as the latest death in the country, an 86-year-old man died in a Sydney hospital. .

Morrison said the stricter ban on indoor social gatherings, up to 100 people out of 500 people, did not include essential services like schools, public transportation, and shopping malls.

The Australian leader cited advice from health experts as a reason to keep schools open, a strategy that has been questioned by some experts. Several private schools have taken the unilateral decision to close before the next Easter holiday.

Morrison reiterated the need for social distancing and good hand hygiene to curb the spread of the virus and announced restricted access to nursing homes for the elderly.

Anyone traveling during a Level 4 ban is warned that the Australian government may not be able to help if they have problems overseas, according to the government’s official SmartTraveller website. He also recommends that people who are already in a “do not travel” area consider leaving.

Shortly before Morrison’s statement, the government released a package of A $ 715 million ($ 430 million) in aid to airlines, including waivers of domestic air traffic control fees. Virgin Australia Holdings Ltd suspended all international flights from March 30 to June 14, while Qantas Airways Ltd reduced its international capacity by 90%.

Wider restrictions on travel and domestic travel are expected to weigh heavily on Australia’s tourism, retail and entertainment industries.

Economists predict that the country will enter its first recession in nearly three decades in the first half of 2020, causing unemployment to rise rapidly.

(REUTERS)