It’s time to close Australia’s schools and cancel mass events, the federal opposition says, as the coronavirus pandemic expands across the country at a frightening pace.
Former Labor leader Bill Shorten said Australia should move to social distancing “not in weeks and months but in days”.
“The only way to make sure this pandemic is not worse than it otherwise could be is to have more drastic social-distancing measures,” he told Sky News on Thursday.
“Singapore and Japan and parts of China, they are putting in more draconian reactions. As a result it would appear that some of their pandemic numbers are not going to be as bad as other countries who are doing too little too late.”
Mr Shorten’s call came as NSW’s chief health officer, Kerry Chant, said up to 1.6 million people in the state could be hit by the first wave of a statewide coronavirus outbreak – with up to 80,000 people likely to require intensive care simultaneously.
Dr Chant told a NSW budget estimates hearing on Thursday that preparations are under way for 20 per cent of NSW’s eight million residents to catch COVID-19.
Late on Thursday afternoon, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was considering extending Australia’s travel ban to those from Europe.
The US suspended all travel from the continent on Thursday (exempting Britain). Health Minister Greg Hunt said Mr Morrison had asked cabinet’s national security committee to review all travel from Europe.
Mr Hunt said there were 128 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia, which already has travel bans in place for China, Iran, South Korea and Italy.
In other developments:
- Cash handouts for millions in Coalition’s virus-busting plan
- WHO declares COVID-19 a pandemic
- Liverpool coach’s blast for fans; Prince Charles opts for ‘namaste’
- Tom Hanks and wife in hospital with coronavirus
- Woolworths refuses to refund rueful panic-shoppers
Sports risks widen
Also on Thursday, two more crew members from Formula One Grand Prix teams were quarantined and tested for the deadly COVID-19.
The Haas team now has four staff and the McLaren team one crew member in Melbourne awaiting test results. Practice sessions for the event – which can draw as many as 300,000 people over its four days – start on Friday.
Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton warned that positive tests at Albert Park could stop the grand prix.
“We need to consider what it means for their close contacts and if they have a number of close contacts across a number of crews, then those individuals need to be quarantined,” Dr Sutton told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Thursday.
“If that effectively shuts down the race, then so be it. We’ll make that call.”
Meanwhile, a man confirmed as a positive case was in the crowd of 86,000 at cricket’s T20 World Cup Final at the MCG on Sunday night.
Another confirmed case is in a person who reportedly attended the Golden Plains music festival in central Victoria at the weekend. Some 12,000 tickets were sold for the festival.
Other Australian events that will draw big crowds in coming days include the NRL season-opener between the Parramatta and Canterbury at Sydney’s Bankwest Stadium on Thursday, and the AFL’s first round of 2020 between the Western Bulldogs and Collingwood at the MCG on Friday.
NRL players have been told to avoid shaking hands with fans in a bid to control the coronavirus outbreak. The NRL has also urged players to avoid taking selfies with fans after matches and not taking pens to sign autographs.
Caulfield Racecourse is also expecting huge numbers to attend its feature All-Star Mile race on Saturday.
In the US, the NBA said on Thursday it would suspend its 2020 season after Utah Jetz centre Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19.
New York City has also postponed its St Patrick’s Day Parade for the first time in its 258-year history.
Case tally grows across Australia
Back in Australia, Victoria confirmed several new cases of the lethal virus on Thursday, including a student at La Trobe University’s suburban Bundoora campus.
In NSW, the number of cases has reached 77. The origins of four of them are unclear.
Authorities are investigating a virus cluster in Sydney’s north-west centred on Ryde Hospital and the Dorothy Henderson Lodge nursing home, where two elderly patients died last week.
The ACT also has its first confirmed case. A man in his 30s was tested at a walk-in clinic on Wednesday, with the positive result confirmed on Thursday. He’s being treated at Canberra Hospital.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said more cases were expected in coming weeks.
“This, however, is not cause for alarm,” he said. “We’re asking Canberrans to work with us to minimise the spread of the virus.”
In Western Australia, which has nine confirmed coronavirus patients, health authorities said they would roll out a text message service for those who tested negative.
Health Minister Roger Cook said the alerts would help “get the information out to people more quickly so that they can get back to work … or back to their lives” and help preserve Health Department resources.
More than 2000 people have been tested for COVID-19 in WA.