PM’s plea as nation prepares for lockdown


HANDSHAKES are off limits, anyone coming into Australia who doesn't self-isolate will cop $13,000 fines and even bigger restrictions on gatherings in enclosed spaces could be announced within days, as the country moves towards Italian-style lock downs.

The unprecedented restrictions were announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday after the first meeting of the National War Cabinet on coronavirus.

He warned more restrictions were coming, with decisions to be announced on Wednesday regarding aged care facilities, remote communities and gatherings in enclosed spaces, as governments desperately seek to slow the spread of COVID-19 to give hospitals the best chance to cope with an impending avalanche of cases.

If the measures are taken, it means the number of cases in Australia will be spread out, still putting stress on the healthcare system, but making it manageable, Mr Morrison said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says social distancing can help the health care system cope with coronavirus outbreaks. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says social distancing can help the health care system cope with coronavirus outbreaks. Picture: AAP Image/Joel Carrett

But the Prime Minister urged Australians to "be good to each other", help the elderly and vulnerable, as people grow increasingly anxious about the new way of life, which will see disruptions to the nation for months to come.

The range of new measures announced yesterday include the cancellation of mass gatherings of 500 people or more will now be enforced, all people entering the country from anywhere would be legally required to self-isolate for 14 days from midnight last night and all cruise ships would be barred from Australian ports for at least 30 days.

Mr Morrison said it was time for Australians to start practising social distancing, including stopping shaking hands and staying 1.5m away from people if feeling unwell.

"What I hope won't happen, and I'm sure it won't, is that we won't lose our sense of Australian-ness in all of this, we will support each other," he said.

"Australians helping each other out over the next few months. In the shopping centre aisle, make sure someone who might be a bit more vulnerable than you can get what they need. Be good to each other."

Mr Morrison said there would not be large-scale use of police to enforce mass gathering bans or self isolation, but he said most people had been doing the right thing voluntarily.

"If your mate has been to Bali and they come back and they turn up at work, and they're sitting next to you, well, they'll be committing an offence," he said.

States will pass laws to enforce the new restrictions, with Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk revealing that people will face fines of $13,000 if they defy the 14-day self-quarantine.

She said police would do address checks to make sure people were not flouting the new rules.

"It's expected most arrivals will be Australians returning home, with international visitors to be told of the new restrictions before boarding flights," she said.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said he could not rule out a complete lockdown in the future, as seen in Italy, France and Spain.

But he suggested that if any such move happened it could be limited to specific regions or areas.

"One of the things we know about outbreaks of infections is that they can affect one part of a country, not another," he told the ABC.

"The Koreans did that for two provinces, very successfully locked them down. Everything is up for consideration."

Currently, it is still acceptable for Australians to go to the gym, cinema, use public transport and similar activities, Prof Murphy advised.

The Victorian Government yesterday announced the closure of all museums in that state, while the SA Government declared a public health emergency.

Elderly people, over the age of 70, should also exercise more caution and step back the number of non-essential outings they take part in, officials say.