‘We’ll get through this’: PM's address to the nation

 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has moved to assure Australians worried by the coronavirus crisis that "we'll get through this together".

In a rare address to the nation, Mr Morrison spruiked his government's $17.6 billion stimulus package and said the government was "well prepared" to respond.

"While Australia cannot and is not immune to this virus, we are well prepared and we are well equipped to deal with it, and we do have a clear plan to see Australia through," Mr Morrison said.

"I know many Australians are anxious about this and we do still have a long way to go, but be assured, we are taking action."

He said he was confident Australians would "all do our bit", as he vowed to rely on the "best possible medical advice" if and when further action was needed.

ELDERLY, PUBLIC SERVANTS WARNED AGAINST OVERSEAS TRAVEL

Elderly Australians and those with health issues are being urged to "carefully consider" international travel following the World Health Organisation's coronavirus pandemic declaration.

The Australian government's travel advice website issued an updated warning on Thursday.

"Particularly if you're elderly or have an underlying health condition, you should carefully consider your travel plans and consult your doctor before travelling," Smartraveller advised.

"All travellers should consider what medical services or support you'd have available if you contracted COVID-19 overseas, or had to undergo a quarantine period in the country you're headed to.

"Every traveller is different, and will have different reasons for travelling, health conditions and risk appetite."

The warning also included new advice for public servants.

"The outbreak has significant implications for Australians planning to travel," the Smartraveller website read.

"The Australian Government has asked public servants to minimise official overseas travel at this time and to instead use video-conferencing and other communication technologies as much as possible."

Earlier, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the National Security Committee had referred a potential Europe travel ban to health officials for consideration on Thursday afternoon, just hours after the US imposed similar restrictions.

If implemented it would mean all Australian citizens and permanent residents returning from Europe would be required to self-isolate for two weeks, while international visitors would be prevented from entering the country entirely.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt speaks to the media during a press conference at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Thursday, March 12, 2020. (AAP Image/Erik Anderson) NO ARCHIVING
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt speaks to the media during a press conference at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Thursday, March 12, 2020. (AAP Image/Erik Anderson) NO ARCHIVING

US CLOSES BORDERS TO EUROPE

America has closed its borders to Europe in an unprecedented shutdown aimed at curbing the coronavirus crisis, as it grapples with an explosion of new cases.

US President Donald Trump announced the restrictions in an address to the nation, in which he blamed China for the outbreak and said Europe's slow imposition of travel restrictions had contributed to the pandemic.

The travel ban starts midnight Friday and will last 30 days but not apply to people coming from the United Kingdom.

A sombre Mr Trump said from the Oval Office that early travel bans he imposed on China had helped slow the spread of COVID-19 in the US.

"The European Union failed to take the same precautions and restrict travel from China and other hot spots," he said.

"As a result, a large number of new clusters in the United States were seeded by travellers from Europe."

President Donald Trump speaks in an address to the nation from the Oval Office at the White House about the coronavirus. Picture: AP
President Donald Trump speaks in an address to the nation from the Oval Office at the White House about the coronavirus. Picture: AP

Mr Trump said he was taking "several strong but necessary actions to protect the health and wellbeing of all Americans".

"The virus will not have a chance against us," he said.

It came as confusion about coronavirus testing sparked concern and condemnation across the country and the top US disease expert Thursday described COVID 19 as "10 times more deadly" than the flu.

More than 40 states have declared states of emergency and banned mass gatherings, with more than 1200 cases of the virus causing the cancellation of major sports events, conferences and concerts.

Colleges have booted students home early for Spring break with no return date in sight and hundreds of schools have closed, including in New Rochelle, the US epicentre north of New York City, where a one-mile containment zone is being supported by the National Guard.

The death toll stood at 37 (Thursday evening) and was expected to rise. The majority of deaths so far have been in clusters around nursing homes near Seattle.

 

 

The elderly and those with underlying medical conditions are most at risk from coronavirus, which presents as relatively mild for about 80 per cent of patients.

The concentration of infections in Washington State nursing homes prompted a call for families to cease visiting their elderly relatives.

Coronavirus patient Judie Shape was Thursday photographed through a window being visited by her daughter and son-in-law at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, where in home visits are cancelled and they spoke over telephone from outside the home through the glass.

After initially downplaying the threat and celebrating Mr Trump's early travel restrictions, the White House was apparently spooked by the market collapse and since Monday has stepped up its response.

But that still doesn't mean people are getting tested when they ask for it, with strict criteria and a GP referral necessary for a test - which can take days to get.

"When they do the retrospective on this one, they are going to say, 'Why did it take the United States so long to bring up the testing capacity?'" New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said yesterday.

 

As the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a pandemic, Americans were warned "it's going to get worse", by top immunologist, Anthony Fauci, in a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing in Washington.

"I can say we will see more cases, and things will get worse than they are right now," said Dr Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"How much worse we'll get will depend on our ability to do two things: to contain the influx of people who are infected coming from the outside, and the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country."

Dr Fauci has repeatedly warned Americans that the virus was going to impact the whole country.

"We would like the country to realise that as a nation, we can't be doing the kinds of things we were doing a few months ago. It doesn't matter if you're in a state that has no cases or one case," Dr Fauci said at the White House.

He also described the virus as "10 times more deadly" than the seasonal flu.

While some areas with bigger outbreaks Thursday started drive-through testing, Dr Robert Redfield, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director, admitted in a House Committee Thursday there was currently capacity to test only 75,000 of America's 330 million citizens.

 

 

Harvard, Princeton, Duke and the California state university system announced they would close classrooms and switch to online learning.

Google and some of the country's biggest technology companies instructed their staff to work from home, and public gatherings were limited by state regulators across the country.

The Democratic presidential primary race was stymied as candidates cancelled rallies and the US federal government instructed people not to travel on cruises.

"As we experience the growing community spread in the United States, the burden of confronting this outbreak is shifting to states and local health professionals on the front lines," Dr Redfield said.

The biggest US outbreaks are in Washington state, New York, and California.

Globally, more than 120,000 people have been infected and more than 4300 killed.

The number of confirmed cases in Australia increased to 137 from 100 24 hours early.

 

 

CASH PAYMENTS FOR SOME AUSSIE HOUSEHOLDS

Scott Morrison announced his $17.6 billion economic stimulus package will include $750 cash payments to some households.

The prime minister said pensioners would be one of the biggest beneficiaries out of the coronavirus measures.

Cash injections for small and medium-sized businesses are also part of the package.

"This plan is about keeping Australians in jobs … this plan is about keeping business in business," Mr Morrison said.

"It is businesses that keep people in jobs."

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: AAP
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: AAP

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced $11 billion would be spent before the end of June.

"These are challenging times but the Australian people and the Australian economy are up to this challenge," he said.

He outlined six key measures including $4.8 billion in one off cash payments to some welfare recipients.

The deeming rates have also been lowered by 0.5 per cent.

Mr Morrison said jobs were at the centre of the plan.

"Jobs are so important as part of our plan," Mr Morrison said.

"It is a health crisis but it is a health crisis with very serious economic impacts."

A worker checks a passenger’s temperature at Sydney International Airport. Picture: Matrix
A worker checks a passenger’s temperature at Sydney International Airport. Picture: Matrix

The $750 cash payments will be available for 6.5 million Australians including pensioners and people on Newstart.

"We believe these measures are the measures that can do the job," Mr Morrison said.

"We got ahead of this early."

The massive cash injection comes after the federal government announced $2.4 billion in coronavirus health spending.

In a win for hundreds of thousands of pensioners, the coronavirus stimulus package will include reductions in the deeming rate.

The deeming rate is the government's assumption about retirees' income from their financial assets.

Mr Morrison today said 0.5 percentage points would be shaved from the lower and upper deeming rates, reducing them to 0.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent respectively.

It follows a series of cuts to the Reserve Bank of Australia's official cash rate.

 

 

The deeming rate is applied regardless of the actual return and can affect how much pension someone receives.

In response to falling market interest rates, the government last year cut the deeming rate on the first $51,800 of investment assets to one per cent, down from 1.75 per cent.

The assumed rate on assets of more than $51,800 was lowered from 3.25 per cent to three per cent.

That change affected 630,00 pensioners, with some as much as $1000 a year better off.

It had a $600 million impact on government finances over four years.

Groups such as National Seniors Australia reacted to the PM's announcement by saying the upper deeming rate of 2.5 per cent was still too high.

National Seniors spokesman Ian Henschke said the deeming rate was unfair and way too high.

"No bank is offering anywhere near 2.5 per cent on their term deposits, in fact the Commonwealth Bank has a 'special offer' of 1.2 per cent on its term deposit, not even half of what the government deems is the return," Mr Henschke said.

National Seniors spokesman Ian Henschke says the deeming rate was unfair and way too high.
National Seniors spokesman Ian Henschke says the deeming rate was unfair and way too high.

Mr Morrison told the ABC the cost was instead "one per cent" of Australia's GDP - which is expected to be at least $18 billion.

The stimulus package is designed to help people stay in work and to help vulnerable business with any cash flow problems amid the pandemic, he said.

Mr Morrison also praised Australia's response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying the nation had treated it as a problem beyond China, whereas the World Health Organisation did not.

"We've been acting to get ahead of it right from the outset," he said.

It comes as federal Education Minister Dan Tehan warned school holidays could be extended as Australia considers drastic measures to contain the coronavirus.

He told the ABC medical advice will guide the decision and the government will not be rushed even though a last-minute call could leave working parents in a bind.

"It might be that school holidays need to be prolonged," he said.

 

UK CONSIDERS MORE RESTRICTIONS

Britain's government has announced a $A58 billion coronavirus fighting fund, as authorities keep calm and carry on.

The National Health Service hotline is answering calls from suspected coronavirus patients within one minute, offices are preparing to make people work from home, and an army of retired nurses will be asked to return to work as part of a "spirit of the blitz" style reaction to the crisis.

But supermarket workers are being abused as tensions rise over shortages of hand sanitiser and paracetamol.

"Where's the hand soap? There aren't even signs for it on the shelves, do you just not sell it at all?" an angry man asked a Sainsbury's employee. The toilet roll panic buying has also hit supermarkets.

People wearing face masks stand in Piccadilly Circus, London. Picture: PA via AP
People wearing face masks stand in Piccadilly Circus, London. Picture: PA via AP

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold a crucial Cobra meeting on Friday (AEDT), where it is expected he will introduce more restrictions.

He was likely to move the country into the delay phase that could include bans on crowds at sporting events including the Premier League football.

Health Minister Nadine Dorries tested positive for the virus, however there were no plans to suspend parliament.

Ms Dorries had come under fire for attending a meeting with the Prime Minister, his pregnant partner Carrie Symonds, and up to 100 people at Downing Street last Friday.

"Just for clarity, on Thursday I felt weak and tired but didn't start with the first symptoms (cough) until 10.45am Friday morning," she said.

Mr Johnson has said he will not be tested for the illness.

Doctors surgeries have warning signs telling suspected coronavirus cases to call the 111 hotline rather than come to clinics.

Sick notes will soon be available over the phone.

 

 

 

News Corp Australia visited a clinic on Thursday which was almost empty, with tape on the floor demanding people keep their space to avoid passing the illness to receptionists.

The coronavirus funding fight was announced in the UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak's first budget on Thursday Australian time, which has seen the biggest spending splurge for the UK since.

There was almost $24 billion AUD allocated to health services, small businesses and government services, with promises of more to come if needed.

The UK saw its biggest leap in confirmed coronavirus cases on Wednesday local time after 460 people were diagnosed with the disease.

Eight people have died.

 

There have been drive through coronavirus testing lanes across the country, with plans to test 10,000 people each day.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said he expected the virus spread to last for less than a year.

Streets across London were quieter, with some cafes cutting staff and considering closing, while Heathrow Airport reported a five per cent drop in passengers in February, compared with the same time last year.

British Airways has offered refunds on flights and no penalties for changing fares in March.

Lidl, ASDA and Sainsbury's, three of the UK's biggest grocery store chains, have been unable to keep up with the wild demand as shoppers strip them of staple items.


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