Last updated March 20, 2020 10:24AM AEDT
The Australian death toll from coronavirus has risen to seven after an 81-year-old woman died in hospital last night, following a record surge in new cases.
Meanwhile, bars, cafes and restaurants are bracing for new restrictions on indoor gatherings after the most dramatic day of the outbreak so far when the PM yesterday announced Australia would be closing its borders and Tasmania effectively shut itself off from the rest of the country.
It came as new restrictions were placed on medicine purchases, the Aussie dollar fell to a 17-year low of 55 US cents, the RBA announced an emergency rate cut and national carrier Qantas stood down 20,000 employees amid what CEO Alan Joyce described as a crisis “worse than the GFC”.
Australia now has 710 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 307 in New South Wales, 150 in Victoria, 144 in Queensland, 42 in South Australia, 52 in Western Australia, 10 in Tasmania, four in the Australian Capital Territory and one in the Northern Territory.
Seven people have died – one in Western Australia and six in New South Wales – and 43 have recovered.
Follow our rolling coverage below.
A seventh person has now died.
The 81-year-old woman died in hospital last night, NSW Health said this morning. She had close contact with another confirmed COVID-19 case at Ryde Hospital.
She is the sixth person to die in NSW and the seventh since the start of the outbreak in Australia.
Australia’s first coronavirus fatality was on Sunday, March 1.
He was a 78-year-old Perth man who was among 163 Australians evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan and quarantined at Howard Springs in the Northern Territory.
The second death came on Tuesday, March 3. The 95-year-old woman was a resident at the Dorothy Henderson Lodge in Macquarie Park, in Sydney’s north.
Two other residents of the same nursing home later died — an 82-year-old man on Sunday, March 8, followed by a 90-year-old woman on Saturday, March 14.
On Friday, March 13, a 77-year-old woman died in a Sydney hospital after recently arriving from Queensland. She had developed symptoms on the plane, was taken to hospital and died the same day.
An 86-year-old man died in a Sydney hospital on Tuesday, March 17, making him the state’s fifth death and the country’s sixth.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the panic buying that has seen supermarket and pharmacy shelves stripped bare is “crazy behaviour but no doubt generated by fear”.
The NSW government today announced it was loosening regulations to make it easier for retailers to replenish stock, including allowing trucks to make deliveries 24 hours a day.
“We are saying to people no need to worry, supplies are there, they will be delivered,” Ms Berejiklian told Nine’s Today.
“We’re doing everything we can and we’re also encouraging people in the supply chain to do the same. We know the supply is there. We just need to get to it there. We just need to get to it the supermarkets more quickly and that is why from tomorrow, once those orders are signed today, trucks will be able to deliver any time at night. I live near a supermarket, I don’t care if it’s noisy at night, so long as people are getting what they need.”
Ms Berejiklian said she understood why some people felt stressed and wanted to make sure their families are looked after, saying “everybody is in the same situation but we should do it calmly”.
NSW now has 307 confirmed cases of COVID-19, more than double the second-worst hit state of Victoria, and has recorded five of the six Australian deaths so far.
Five people are currently in intensive care, NSW Health announced yesterday. Ms Berejiklian pleaded with viewers to practise social distancing to help control the spread.
“If we don’t, we will lose control of this stage of the spread. We know what happens, as we have seen in other parts of the world, if you don’t have strict social rules around these things because it does get out of control and it results in people dying,” she said.
“We don’t want to see that. We still have a handful of people in our intensive care wards in the state and we want to keep it low. We know that is not going to happen and the numbers will be going up. We want to keep this phase of the virus under control as much as possible.”
Via news.com.au's James Hall
The Australian dollar plunged to a 18-year low of 55 US cents yesterday as the global economic outlook crumbled under the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The widely expected emergency interest rate cut to 0.25 per cent from the Reserve Bank was priced in as the currency hung tentatively waiting on details of quantitative easing – effectively encouraging consumer spending by printing more money and pumping it into the economy.
The Aussie was buying just 55.10 US cents shortly after lunch, the weakest since 2002. “The dollar is seen as a proxy for global growth,” Westpac senior currency strategist Sean Callow told news.com.au.
He said most major currencies had been weakened by the continual spread of the pandemic as another 475 deaths were confirmed yesterday in Italy, creating a “horrible risk environment” for investors as travel restrictions amplify.
“The Aussie seems to get over punished when the global economic outlook deteriorates,” Mr Callow said.
IG market analyst Kyle Rodda said the US dollar strengthening against all others was “perhaps the greatest red flag” because it showed others defensive assets had been abandoned as investors retreated to lick their wounds.
“All other safe haven assets have been bypassed for dollars, as the only thing that seems to matter for the market is liquidity,” he said in his note yesterday morning. “Market participants want cash in US dollars, but there’s not enough to meet the demand.”
Meanwhile, Mr Rodda said investors would be eager to dissect RBA governor Philip Lowe’s explanation for the central bank’s historic rate cut, which saw Australia’s cash rate lashed from 0.5 per cent to a new low of 0.25 per cent.
“The devil will be in the detail — so how big this program is going to be, whether they’ll have other measures to try and support the financial system and stimulate economic growth,” he said. “The impacts will reverberate through the market once we know that outcome.”
The central bank wasn’t scheduled to meet until the first Tuesday of April.
The Australian share market has lost hundreds of billions dollars in the past two weeks and is bracing for further heavy falls as businesses across the country grind to a halt.
Read more here.
The national cabinet meets at 10am.
It’s not clear how long it will go for but the PM will give a press conference shortly afterwards where he’s expected to announce new restrictions on indoor gatherings.
Australian Banking Association chief executive Anna Bligh will be speaking to the media in Sydney at 11am to announce a coronavirus package from the big banks to support small businesses.
The ACT reported its fourth confirmed coronavirus case yesterday afternoon, a woman in her 20s who recently flew in from Los Angeles via Melbourne.
“She recently returned from overseas where we believe she has been exposed to the novel coronavirus,” ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said in a statement.
“She has complied with self-quarantining directions for travellers returning from overseas and is now isolating with ACT Health support. A small number of household close contacts have been identified and contacted this afternoon.”
ACT Health is also working to identify a number of other passengers considered “close contacts” on two flights “where potential exposure may have occurred”.
People in rows 71-75 on flight QF94 from Los Angeles to Melbourne, which arrived at 8.30am on March 17, and people in rows 15-19 of QF2130 from Melbourne to Canberra, which arrived at 1.30pm on the same day, are being asked to quarantine themselves and contact health authorities.
The three previous cases in the national capital were two men in their 30s and a woman in her 70s.
This is floating around on Facebook.
Working from home comes with teething issues.
Remember, we’re all in this together.
Scott Morrison has said many of Australia’s coronavirus infections are coming out of the US.
Speaking to 2GB radio host Alan Jones this morning, the Prime Minister said “the country which has been responsible for a large number of these is the United States”.
He added that was to be expected “because there’s a lot of people coming between” Australia and the US.
The PM said it would take “six months … or longer” before Australia would get through “to the other side” of the coronavirus pandemic.
“These are extraordinary times,” Mr Morrison said.
“This could take six months, seven or eight months.”
He said the tourism industry would get a “much bigger package to soften the blow” of the current downturn.
– Candace Sutton
Supermarkets in NSW will be able to receive deliveries 24 hours a day under new regulations introduced to stop panic buying amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The NSW government has overridden local council rules which restrict some stores from restocking shelves and operating loading docks outside regular business hours, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Friday.
“We need to make sure these products can move from factories to shelves as quickly as possible,” Ms Berejiklian said in a statement.
“We are moving quickly so truck drivers can make deliveries to supermarkets around the clock. It is important that people now stop unnecessary panic buying.”
The regulations apply immediately and will remain until the crisis is over. Ms Berejiklian on Thursday said there was “absolutely no need to panic buy or hoard”.
“We are ensuring there’s a solid supply chain and we also want to make sure those most vulnerable who can’t go to the shops every day because they’re immobile, or they’re older or vulnerable, do have that support as well,” she said.
NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes said the new regulations make clear deliverers can supply stores and retailers with essential goods at all times.
“Councils and retailers have been working well together to allow greater flexibility in delivery hours and this change gives everyone the certainty we need to ensure these deliveries can continue,” Mr Stokes said in a statement.
Property development industry group The Urban Taskforce on Friday welcomed the new regulations. “In an era of delayed government responses to crises, this swift action is very welcome,” chief executive Tom Forrest said in a statement.
Almost all councils across Australia have agreed to relax truck curfews to allow more deliveries to supermarkets.
Coles has taken out full-page newspaper advertisements announcing limits on toilet paper, pasta, flour, eggs, some meat, hand sanitiser and soaps amid bulk buying.
Woolworths is also limiting purchases of similar products, as well as chilled fresh milk.
Coles chief operating officer Matt Swindells said shops were geared up to put items on the shelf as quickly as possible, with more than 5000 extra casuals employed.
– Heather McNab, AAP
Helping Australians who can no longer pay their power bills because of coronavirus will be central to discussions between the nation’s energy ministers.
Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor will host a teleconference with his state counterparts on Friday, with discussions set to focus on coronavirus.
The ministers will iron out ways to help households and small businesses experiencing financial stress because of the virus.
They have spoken with energy company bosses and relevant industry groups about hardship policies.
It’s expected that customers who have to self-isolate and lose income won’t be penalised because of it.
The meeting’s agenda will also cover ways of limiting the risk of infection within the energy workforce, ensuring supply continues and coordinating emergency management powers.
Mr Taylor says Friday’s meeting is an important step to increase coordination to ensure power supply.
“We will be working with state and territory governments, industry and stakeholders to ensure Australia remains well-prepared to respond to energy supply disruptions, including electricity, gas and liquid fuels,” he said.
Mr Taylor on Thursday urged energy companies to cut Australian businesses some slack during the pandemic.
“We don’t want them turning out the lights on companies who have been hit by the coronavirus,” he said.
– Rebecca Gredley, AAP
Queenslanders have been urged to be “kind and patient” amid a soaring number of coronavirus cases.
Total confirmed coronavirus cases in the state have jumped to 144 after 50 were confirmed on Thursday.
It is the state’s biggest increase in confirmed cases, which now stretch from Cairns to the Gold Coast.
Authorities have called for calm with reports of escalating violence as the virus continues to spread.
“There have been reports of abuse and violence against pharmacists and pharmacy assistants,” Health Minister Steven Miles said.
“They are important healthcare providers in our community. If you are unable to access the medicine you are after at the pharmacy, it is not the fault of the pharmacist or pharmacy assistant. Please, please do not take your aggression out on them. I would urge people to be kind and to be patient.”
The effects of the coronavirus are far-reaching and have sparked numerous precautionary measures.
Queensland now has sweeping new powers to fight the illness, including being able to hit people with hefty fines if they fail to follow health orders.
Emergency officers can also direct businesses such as supermarkets to open and close and control public access to those businesses.
Health authorities have been given new powers to order individuals into isolation, and fine people more than $13,000 if they defy such orders. Parliament will be able to sit via electronic channels under changes passed in parliament.
– Robyn Wuth, AAP