Three people die from Covid-19 in Victoria and one in WA
Victoria has recorded its first coronavirus deaths, with authorities confirming three people diagnosed with Covid-19 have died in the past 24 hours. All three of the victims were men aged in their 70s. Meanwhile, a second man has died from Covid-19 in Western Australia.
The national death toll now stands at 13 people.
Victoria’s health minister, Jenny Mikakos, said: “All died in a Melbourne hospital and, of course, I am urging everyone to respect the privacy of the families during this difficult time.
“We all have a role to play in the fight against coronavirus and this means we must all take very seriously the message that we must stay home unless it is absolutely essential to leave your home. You must stay at home at every opportunity.”
Thousands more people out of work
An additional 15,000 people were thrown out of work due to the coronavirus crisis.
Solomon Lew’s retail group Premier Investments, which owns the stationery brand Smiggle and clothing chains including Just Jeans, Portmans and Dotti, will close all its stores at 6pm on Thursday, standing down 9,000 people. Premier said stores would remain closed until at least 22 April. It also told its landlords it would not be paying the rent during this period.
Travel agent Flight Centre will stand down or sack 6,000 people, including 3,800 Australian staff. Flight Centre said that some of the Australian staff put out of a job would be made redundant, but did not provide numbers.
“In Australia, where international travel bans and domestic border controls are in place, about 3,800 people in sales and support roles will temporarily stand down in the near-term,” the company told the ASX.
Thirty-minute hairdressing rule revoked
The national cabinet decided on Wednesday night to relax the rules around hairdressers and barbers, revoking the rule announced the previous day that appointments must be kept to 30 minutes. But the backflip was subsequently labelled “bonkers” by the boss of the largest hairdressing chain in the country, who said social distancing rules made their work untenable.
Just Cuts chief executive Denis McFadden said it was physically impossible for stylists to do their job while observing the rule of 4 sq metres per person, which will still be strictly enforced. McFadden said that without hairdressing on the shutdown list, it was difficult for franchise owners to stand down workers and close their doors.
NSW orders airport health screening, creating havoc
The New South Wales health department has ordered nurses and biosecurity staff at Sydney airport to temperature check all incoming passengers, escalating that state’s response to combat the spread of Covid-19 above and beyond commonwealth rules.
The directive, approved by health minister Brad Hazzard, was sent on Thursday, causing delays at Sydney airport and prompting concern from the Community and Public Sector Union and others that social distancing is not being observed in the arrival hall.
First day of Queensland border checks
The border between Queensland and NSW was declared “closed” on Thursday for the first time since the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1919. Police patrolled only the main highway routes to the north, and just a few cars were turned around at those checkpoints.
Police said on Thursday morning their “methodology” for enforcing border closures would change regularly but that they had initially decided not to install roadblocks and checkpoints on streets linking Coolangatta and Tweed Heads.
NSW premier indicates state could move to total lockdown
Gladys Berejiklian said on Thursday she was ready to move ahead of the commonwealth if required and declare over the weekend a lockdown across NSW.
The number of NSW coronavirus cases jumped on Thursday to 1219, a rise of 190 on the previous day. Some 16 patients are in intensive care, with 10 requiring ventilators. Two more children in NSW – girls aged one and two – were confirmed on Thursday to have Covid-19, taking the number of child cases to four.
Berejiklian also said the government was “looking very closely” at the impact of Monday’s shutdowns on pubs, cinemas and churches – and if they were not sufficient, further action would be taken.
Qld, SA and WA schools to go student-free
Leaders in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia announced on Thursday that school holidays would be brought forward, in a similar move to what Victoria and the ACT have already done.
Teachers will still be at schools so parents who have essential jobs, such as healthcare workers and people who stack supermarket shelves, can send their children. But all other students are being asked to stay home. Schools will return after the holidays with distance education.
The Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said heath advice that has kept schools open so far had not changed, but the pupil-free directive provides the right balance given community concerns.
NSW schools remain open but the premier urged parents to keep their children at home if possible.
Government asks Ford for help with producing ventilators
The federal government has begun urgent discussions with the carmaker Ford to help boost ventilator stocks and is investigating whether veterinary equipment and sleep apnoea machines can be converted for use in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Australia currently has 2,300 ventilators in intensive care units across the hospital system, has surge capacity for another 5,000 and is seeking to dramatically boost stocks.
The coronavirus crisis is placing immense pressure on the global availability of ventilators, which are needed to pump oxygen into the failing lungs of critically ill patients.
Cruise ship anchored near Perth must leave, WA premier says
Seven passengers aboard the Artania anchored off Perth have tested positive for coronavirus, and the Western Australian premier, Mark McGowan, is adamant the federal government must manage the sick and help make the cruise ship leave.
There are no Australians on the vessel or on the cruise ship Magnifica, which is also anchored off WA and not allowed to dock but does not have any reported cases.
McGowan said the Artania must “urgently” continue on to its next port in South Africa. He said the seven cases were all European, largely German, and he urged the federal government to consider arranging mercy flights with their home country.
Meanwhile, the Vasco da Gama, which was scheduled to arrive in Fremantle on Friday, has been told to hold off until Monday while Rottnest Island is prepared as a 14-day quarantine zone for about 200 West Australians.