PM’s $2.4bn response to coronavirus crisis


The Morrison Government has approved a $2.4 billion medical response to the corona­virus outbreak that will include more than 100 fever clinics and allow people experiencing symptoms to stay home and charge GP audio and video calls to Medicare.

The health package, The Australian reports, will be in addition to the multi-­billion-dollar economic stimulus package which was approved by cabinet on Tuesday night and is set to be announced on Thursday.

It comes as workers are being shown the door with industries laying off thousands of staff in a bid to cope with the financial fallout of the deadly coronavirus epidemic.

Large footwear and clothing chains are among many retailers letting go of workers as consumer demand continues to plummet.

The Australian Retailers Association's executive director Russell Zimmerman said the retail sector was in a world of pain after experiencing recent downfalls in turnover of between 15 and 20 per cent.

Minister for Health Greg Hunt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: AAP
Minister for Health Greg Hunt and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Picture: AAP

"There's a number of retailers who have tried to cut back or even tell their casuals they haven't got any available work for them at the moment," he said.

"If you haven't got a lot of stock to put in and you haven't got a lot of customers to serve then you don't necessarily bring your casuals in.

"If it's a casual and you don't need them anymore that's when you'll say to them you can't keep them on because you don't have money coming through the till."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday said while the Federal Government was finalising the multi-billion fiscal stimulus package they remained focused on keeping "people in jobs, keep businesses in business and ensure we bounce back on the other side".


The tourism industry has also been badly hit with falling numbers of jetsetters and local and international tourists.

Qantas announced it was cutting its international flights by almost a quarter for the next six months, which will have an impact on jobs.

Chief executive officer Alan Joyce, who will not take a salary for six months, said: "less flying means less work for our people, but we know coronavirus will pass and we want to avoid job losses wherever possible".

"We're asking our people to use their paid leave and, if they can, consider taking some unpaid leave given we're flying a lot less."



The Tourism and Transport Forum's chief executive officer Margy Osmond said the combination of the bushfires and coronavirus means many businesses would have had to shed staff.

"They have go no choice," she said.

"It's devastating, a lot of these businesses are desperately trying to hold onto their staff."

In a recent report by the TTF's on the impacts of the coronavirus it forecast tourism job losses of between 15 and 20 per cent of up to 133,200 jobs.

Ms Osmond said the tourism sectors has been very badly hit on the Gold Coast and in Cairns which are popular hot spots among Chinese tourists.

The Restaurant and Catering Industry Association's chief executive officer Wes Lambert said up to 50 per cent of front-of-house staff were casual employees and many had been stood down.

"Businesses are standing down their casual employees based on the perfect storm of bushfires, floods, drought and coronavirus," he said.

"This is after speaking to restaurateurs both in all the affected areas around the country and in every state, both in CBDs and regions."

Meanwhile, Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy confirmed there were 100 cases of coronavirus in Australia, with more than half already cleared. Three Australians have died so far as Sydney proves a hotspot. Professor Murphy, who is reportedly considering reducing Australia's 14-day quarantine period in the future following new scientific evidence that coronavirus symptoms appear roughly five days after infection, also said it was highly unlikely people would catch the virus twice.


China's president visited the centre of the global virus outbreak on Tuesday as Italy began a sweeping nationwide travel ban and people worldwide braced for the possibility of recession.

President Xi Jinping's trip to the coronavirus' epicentre of Wuhan - his first since the start of the outbreak - came as parts of his country return to normalcy, and was a sign of the diminishing threat the illness presents in China as it spreads west.

Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan. Picture: AP
Chinese President Xi Jinping talks by video with patients and medical workers at the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan. Picture: AP

Nowhere was that more evident than Italy, where travel restrictions previously limited to the country's north were extended everywhere beginning Tuesday, with soldiers and police enforcing bans. Some 9172 people were infected in Italy and 463 have died and there was a growing sense the numbers would only worsen. "We're only at the beginning," said Dr Massimo Galli, head of infectious disease at Sacco Hospital in Milan, where people at the city's main train station were required to sign forms certifying the necessity of their travel.


It comes as the boisterous hum of Rome dwindled to a whisper and police patrols kept people apart in cafes as Italy enforced an extraordinary, sweeping lockdown on Tuesday in hopes of not becoming the next epicentre of the spreading coronavirus epidemic now that life in China is edging back to normal.

The travel restrictions that were extended across Italy illustrated how the virus and the broad disruptions it is causing are sweeping westward from China, where the outbreak began.

Teams of Italian police patrolled cafes to make sure owners were keeping customers one metre apart.

The streets of the Italian capital were as quiet as they are during the annual mid-August holiday shutdown.

"It's bad. People are terrorised," said Massimo Leonardo, who runs a market stall. "I've never seen anything like it."

Italy now has more coronavirus cases than anywhere but China, registering 9172 infections with 463 deaths. Italy increasingly found itself sealed off as countries elsewhere in Europe and farther afield sought to keep infections contained to the peninsula.

Malta and Spain announced a ban on air traffic from Italy. Slovenia closed its border to the country, Malta turned away another cruise ship and British Airways cancelled flights to the whole country. Austria barred travellers from crossing the border without a medical certificate. Britain, Ireland, Hong Kong and Germany strengthened travel advisories or flat out urged their citizens to leave. Even the Vatican erected a new barricade at the edge of St. Peter's Square.

"Get out of northern Italy if you're there. We don't know how long the Italian authorities will keep the window open," said Erik Broegger Rasmussen, head of consular services for Denmark's foreign ministry.

More than 100 countries - over half of the United Nations' membership - have now confirmed cases. Panama and Mongolia, which borders China, were the newest countries to announce infections. France's government advised voters to bring their own pens to local elections Sunday so they won't have to share. Morocco reported its first death of a virus- infected person - only the second confirmed fatality in Africa. In Spain and France, soccer's biggest stars prepared to play in empty stadiums. Bans on public gatherings silenced entertainers. Sony Pictures delayed the launch of Peter Rabbit 2, which stars Rose Byrne, to August.


Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, is briefed about the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. Picture: AP
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, is briefed about the Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. Picture: AP

Outbreaks flared in France, Spain and Germany, and fear grew in the United States, where more than 750 people are infected and even some senior political leaders were quarantined.

New Jersey logged its first coronavirus death, Governor Phil Murphy announced, according to news reports.

The governor said the victim was a man in his 60s who had a history of travelling between New Jersey and New York, and was admitted to Hackensack University Medical Centre on March 6, WPIX reported.

"We are sad to report the first death in a case of COVID-19 in New Jersey," Gov. Murphy said in a statement. "Our prayers are with the family during this difficult time. We remain vigilant to doing all we can - across all levels of government - to protect the people of New Jersey."

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia.

The World Health Organisation says people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while severe cases may last three to six weeks. In mainland China, where the outbreak emerged in December, almost three-fourths of its more than 80,000 patients have recovered.


Regardless, the virus has shaken global markets, with stocks taking their worst one-day beating on Wall Street since 2008 and oil prices suffering their most brutal losses since the start of the 1991 Gulf War.

Xi's trip to Wuhan came as the country recorded just 19 new cases of the virus on Tuesday. The official Xinhua News Agency said Xi went to a hastily built hospital, visited with patients and encouraged staff to "firm up confidence in defeating the epidemic." He then visited Wuhan residents under quarantine at home, Xinhua reported.

The visit also was likely to be seen as an attempt to bolster views of the ruling Communist Party's handling of the crisis. Xi was conspicuously absent from the public eye during the early days of the outbreak and alarms were not sounded until late January.

Wuhan and nearby cities have been under lockdown since then, though, in a virus- containment measure.

Ying Yong, the party secretary of Hubei province where Wuhan is located, told local officials that preparations should be made for resuming business production and the safe and orderly movement of individuals, according to a notice published on Hubei's government website.

Already, there are signs the lockdown is loosening. Jingzhou, a city in Hubei, has ordered roads and village entrances in low-risk areas to be reopened to restore agricultural production.

The edge toward normalcy in China and improving reports from South Korea - where new infections continued to dip - contrasted with a widening problem elsewhere in the world.

Italy's far-reaching restrictions are to last through April 3 and violators risk up to three months in jail or fines of 206 euros. Schools and universities were remaining closed and pubs, eateries and cafes were to shutter at dusk.

"Our habits must be changed, changed now," Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said.





Live studio audiences in Australia could be dead, with all local TV networks considering a ban amid escalating coronavirus fears.

ABC's Q&A program has confirmed it is making plans to go to air without a live, interactive audience as early as next week - as local health officials race to stop the pandemic spreading.

Host Hamish McDonald addressed the evolving threat with the studio audience before the show kicked off this week and expressed his disappointment at the looming ban.

McDonald also told the audience he was advised against taking individual selfies with anyone, under new prevention protocols - instead posing for a group shot - while producers distributed hand sanitiser throughout the recording.

Flagship ABC panel show Q+A is making plans to film and air without an live studio audience as soon as next week amid coronavirus fears. Host Hamish McDonald poses for a selfie after the show.
Flagship ABC panel show Q+A is making plans to film and air without an live studio audience as soon as next week amid coronavirus fears. Host Hamish McDonald poses for a selfie after the show.

In similar TV moves, producers of Nine's The Voice sent fans attending its blind auditions last weekend a warning letter advising them to stay away from the reality show's new Moorebank studio if they had recently travelled to high-risk COVID-19-affected countries or showed any of the virus' symptoms.

A Nine spokeswoman said: "we have a team working on this and obviously the situation changes day to day, but right now we are business as usual. The Voice shoots are not until later this month for the next [battle] rounds."

Network 10 is also monitoring official health updates on the virus before it excludes audiences from Studio 10, The Project, Dancing With The Stars and the live finale of Australian Survivor later this month.



A 10 spokesperson told News Corp Australia: "the safety and wellbeing of our employees is paramount and we take our responsibility for audiences who come to our shows very seriously," adding "we will continue to monitor the situation closely."

A spokeswoman for Channel 7, which begins filming auditions for Australia's Got Talent later this month, said it was also assessing the risks to staff and studio guests.

Meanwhile, Fox Sports have invited staff, instead of fans, to man the audience for its live programming, including The Late Show with Matty Johns Show, which returns for the new league year this Thursday evening.

A Fox Sports spokesman said: "amid all of our genuine concerns and caution, there is a ray of happiness - in house staff from across the Foxtel group of businesses have been invited to roll up as the studio audiences for our fun shows Matty Johns, Bounce and Narrow World of Sports."

The rolling crisis talks come as US game show, Wheel of Fortune and long running quiz show Jeopardy! announced they were banning studio audiences "indefinitely" over coronavirus fears.

Audiences for both game shows tend to be elderly and travel from out of town to attend the filmings, while Jeopardy's 79-year-old host Alex Trebek, who is battling pancreatic cancer, would also be at risk.