Australians aged over 70 have been urged to remain at home and all outdoor gatherings will be restricted to just two people, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison imposed a further social crackdown on Sunday night to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
All Australians have now been told to leave their homes only to shop for food or other essential supplies, to seek medical care, to exercise under public gathering rules or for work and education if these cannot be conducted remotely.
Mr Morrison warned that trips to the shops should be only for “what you need”, and should be “as infrequently as possible” while public playgrounds, outdoor gyms and skate parks will be closed from Monday.
“The strong advice is don’t gather together in groups,” he said on Sunday night.
“Just don’t do it. It is not helpful. When you are going out for shopping, you should be going for just stuff you need and do it and get home.”
The national cabinet, made up of Mr Morrison and state premiers, is resisting further restrictions on work sites and businesses across the nation, as authorities grow quietly confident that social distancing practices and harsh measures already implemented are slowing the rate of infection.
The number of Australians who have contracted the coronavirus will top 4000 on Monday, with 16 deaths as of Sunday night after a Victorian man in his 80s and a 75-year-old Queensland woman who was a passenger on board the Ruby Princess cruise ship became the latest victims.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases was much less than it would have been without mitigation measures, and early signs of a flattening of the disease curve were welcome.
He said daily rates of increase, which were between 25 per cent and 30 per cent last week, were now in the “low teens”.
“But it is not enough. We have to slow it further. We have to slow it further and we have to stop the thing that’s worrying us most, which is community transmission,” Professor Murphy said.
Mr Morrison said the rule of two people in public and private would not include members of a person’s household and warned that limits were now enforceable by authorities in most states and territories.
He said the rule would allow people to complete their daily exercise and was important, particularly for women, as they would not be forced to walk or run alone.
Mr Morrison said older Australians should self-isolate for their own protection to the “maximum extent practical”.
“This does not mean they cannot go outside. They can go outside and be accompanied by a support person for the purposes of getting fresh air and recreation, but should limit contact with others as much as possible,” he said.
He said those with chronic illnesses who were aged over 60 and Indigenous people over the age of 50 should also undertake similar measures.
National cabinet also agreed on a moratorium on evictions from commercial and residential rental properties, with Mr Morrison saying there would be a six-month ban on evictions of people as a “result of financial distress if they are unable to meet their commitments”.
Billionaire Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes on Sunday urged Australians to comply with social distancing measures put in place by the federal government as the nation confronts the coronavirus pandemic.
“Stay the f— at home,” he said. “Be sensible. Educate yourself. This is incredibly serious. We must flatten the curve or many more people will die.”
But John Dwyer, an emeritus professor of medicine at the University of NSW, said the outcomes for Australia would “surely be better” if governments moved quickly to a lockdown instead of allowing another week to pass.
“Better to do it now for a limited period when we can make a real dent in the spread of the virus, than a few weeks from now when it will be so much harder and take so much longer,” he writes for Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald and Age.
“There are still too many crowds in our supermarkets for shopping to be safe – same for the long queues for Centrelink. Scenes of large groups picnicking in parks and on the lawns above Bondi beach are also cause for concern.”
State and territory governments spent the weekend negotiating with private hospitals to keep their facilities and workforce on standby amid claims from the sector facilities would be forced to close and nurses stood down unless there was financial assistance.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said on Sunday that private hospitals were a critical part of the system and the states had made “extraordinary progress” with what was an indispensable part of the system.
By Rob Harris & Fergus Hunter