The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the COVID-19 pandemic is “accelerating”, with more than 300,000 cases now confirmed around the world.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it took 67 days from the first reported of Covid-19 to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000, and just four days for the third 100,000, but said it was still possible to “change the trajectory of this pandemic”.
As of 25 March, there have been 2,423 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia. Of the 2,423 confirmed cases, eight have died from COVID-19. More than 169,000 tests have been conducted across Australia. New South Wales has recorded a significant increases this week, with the state’s total currently at 1029.
In New Zealand, there are now more than 200 confirmed cases of coronavirus. The country entered a month-long nationwide lockdown on Wednesday night. All public venues will close, as will most shops except supermarkets and chemists.
Earlier this week, Spain recorded its highest daily COVID-19 death toll, with more than 460 deaths confirmed overnight, while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new lockdown restrictions for the UK.
The #COVID19 pandemic is accelerating. It took 67 days from the 1st reported case to reach the first 100K cases, 11 days for the second 100K cases & just 4 days for the third 100K cases.
These numbers matter, these are people, whose lives & families have been turned upside down. https://t.co/VydhLBNq36
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) March 23, 2020
According to health officials, most confirmed cases are considered to have been acquired overseas although a large proportion are still under investigation to understand the source of infection. The majority of Australian confirmed cases acquired overseas had a recent history of travel to Europe or the Americas.
Here are just a few of the ways that @WHO is responding to #COVID19. I sincerely thank all the countries, institutions and individuals around the world who have provided support: https://t.co/ThQ7fvphjC pic.twitter.com/psKxNNLCdy
— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) March 23, 2020
Federal parliament passes stimulus package
This week parliament passed a second round of stimulus measures worth $66 billion, bringing the total economic rescue package to $189 billion.
The funding, aimed at protecting workers and small businesses, will boost income support payments, introduces targeted changes to the superannuation rules, provides cash flow support of up to $100,000 for small business employers, and relaxes corporate insolvency laws.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was acting to cushion the blow from the coronavirus for businesses and households to help them get through to the other side of the crisis.
“We want to help businesses keep going as best they can and for as long as they can, or to pause instead of winding up their business. We want to ensure that when this crisis has passed Australian businesses can bounce back.
“We know Australia’s more than 3 million small and medium businesses are the engine room of our economy. When they hurt, we all hurt.
“The next few months are going to be a difficult journey but we all have a role to play to adapt to the changes we’re facing, to cushion the impact of what is happening and to pull together so we can bounce back when we get to the other side.”
The government is providing up to $100,000 to eligible small and medium sized businesses, and not‑for-profits (including charities) that employ people, with a minimum payment of $20,000. These payments will help businesses’ and not-for-profits’ cash flow so they can keep operating, pay their rent, electricity and other bills and retain staff.
Under the enhanced scheme from the first package, employers will receive a payment equal to 100 per cent of their salary and wages withheld (up from 50 per cent), with the maximum payment being increased from $25,000 to $50,000.
In addition, the minimum payment is being increased from $2,000 to $10,000. The payment will be available from 28 April 2020. Small and medium business entities with aggregated annual turnover under $50 million and that employ workers are eligible.
The government is estimating the measure will benefit around 690,000 businesses employing around 7.8 million people, and around 30,000 not-for-profits. The measure is estimated to cost $31.9 billion – an increase of $25.2 billion in support from the first package when the cash payment limit was $25,000 not $100,000.
The government will also establish the Coronavirus SME Guarantee Scheme which will support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to get access to working capital to help them get them through the impact of the coronavirus.
Under the scheme, the government will guarantee 50 per cent of new loans issued by eligible lenders to SMEs. The government is also temporarily increasing the threshold at which creditors can issue a statutory demand on a company and the time companies have to respond to statutory demands they receive.
The package also includes temporary relief for directors from any personal liability for trading while insolvent. The Corporations Act 2001 will be amended to provide temporary and targeted relief for companies to deal with unforeseen events that arise as a result of the coronavirus.
Australian venues shutdown
On Sunday the Prime Minister announced Australian venues will have to close their doors from midday Monday in a bid to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Morrison said the measures will be reviewed on a monthly basis, but are a result of Australians continuing to gather in large groups as normal over the weekend without practicing social distancing.
“We will be living with this virus for at least six months, so social distancing measures to slow this virus down must be sustainable for at least that long to protect Australian lives, allow Australia to keep functioning and keep Australians in jobs,” Morrison said.
“Practicing good hygiene and keeping a healthy physical distance between individuals is our most powerful weapon in fighting this virus and saving lives. The failure of some businesses and members of the public to do this puts people’s lives at risk.
“We need every Australian to do their bit to save the lives of other Australians.
“Leaders thank those members of the public who are adhering to social distancing measures. However, leaders expressed their disappointment at some members of the community who are disregarding social distancing measures and, by doing so, putting the lives of older and vulnerable Australians at risk.
“If we want to slow the spread, everyone must implement appropriate social distancing in accordance with state and territory laws.”
The stage one restrictions on social gatherings are expected to be in place for at least six months, and the following facilities will be restricted from opening from midday local time 23 March 2020:
- Pubs, registered and licenced clubs (excluding bottle shops attached to these venues), hotels (excluding accommodation)
- Gyms and indoor sporting venues
- Cinemas, entertainment venues, casinos, and night clubs
- Restaurants and cafes will be restricted to takeaway and/or home delivery
- Religious gatherings, places of worship or funerals (in enclosed spaces and other than very small groups and where the one person per four square metre rule applies).
- Isolated remote community hubs are not included in these restrictions.
- Other facilities are not impacted, but will be considered under stage two restrictions, if necessary.
- These measures also apply to outdoor spaces associated with the above venues.
Other measures already in place include:
- No non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people outside or more than 100 people inside.
- All non-essential indoor gatherings of less than 100 people must have no more than one person per 4sqm. All Australians should expect their local businesses to be following this rule.
- Where possible, keep 1.5 metres between yourself and others.
- Avoid non-essential travel.
- Restrictions on entering aged care homes to protect older Australians.
“This is going to be the toughest economic situation we’ve likely seen since the Great Depression and also when it comes to war time, one of the biggest challenges of keeping Australians together and focusing forward since the Second World War. So people need to understand that we are in extraordinary times.”
Kim Puxty, national president of the Building Service Contractors Association (BSCAA) said the association was “saddened and shocked” by the closures.
“The cleaning contractors who service these “non-essential” sites have effectively lost the business. We are hoping businesses utilise cleaners for some more detailed cleaning during this time, however, some businesses may not be in a financial position to do so.
“An example of this a pub that has a cleaner four hours per evening – vac, dust, mop and pick up rubbish – now this pub is closed maybe this cleaner could steam clean the carpet section by section during their four hours or machine scrub tiled areas. It doesn’t all need to be done in one go, a little bit can be done each night. We don’t know when these businesses are going to re-open but when they do they will have a clean and hygienic site if they used this option.”
Across the world there have been more than 397,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 18,100 deaths.
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