Scott Morrison has called in the army to help manage the mass quarantine of returning Australians as the fight against the coronavirus pandemic steps up yet another level.
The Prime Minister made the announcement after the latest meeting of the national cabinet on Friday afternoon.
The mass quarantines will apply to everyone who arrives at an Australian airport from midnight on Saturday. Travellers will be quarantined for 14 days at hotels or other accommodation in the state they fly to, regardless of their home state.
“You have come back into Australia, you need to live up to this pledge,” Mr Morrison said.
“The state and territory governments are going to make sure you do. And there are strong penalties for those who don’t comply with this and the states and territories are already moving in their enforcement measures.”
The federal government will support the states and territories with logistics and other issues.
“We will be supporting them also by providing members of the Australian Defence Force to assist in the compliance with these arrangements,” Mr Morrison said.
ADF personnel will also help local law enforcement agencies check on those who are self-isolating at home. Local police forces will retain the enforcement powers.
Almost two-thirds of the more than 3000 cases of coronavirus recorded in Australia are among people who have returned from overseas.
A significant percentage of the remaining cases are believed to have been transmitted to others by returned overseas travellers.
There are still about 7000 travellers returning to Australia each day, despite closed borders and mass flight groundings. That number is down on about 48,000 at the same time in 2019.
NSW Health confirmed 186 new coronavirus infections on Friday, bringing the state’s total number of cases to 1405.
Of that, another 41 cases were confirmed in people who were aboard the Ruby Princess, meaning 162 of NSW’s total infections are from that cruise ship.
Earlier this week, NSW Health said another 26 people on the Ruby Princess had tested positive and were interstate. That means the total number of infections that can be linked to the cruise is almost 200.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said on Friday afternoon that state had 574 cases of coronavirus, up 54 from Thursday. Of those 22 are in hospital, three of them in intensive care.
“One of the highest risk groups is those travelling back to Australia or, in our case, back to Melbourne, having been overseas,” he said.
“It almost does not matter what country they come from. This is running so wildly rampant in a number of other countries that if you have been in international airports and are returning from anywhere, really, you are an unacceptable risk if we just let you go about your business.”
He said returning travellers would no longer be able to self-isolate on an “honesty basis”. Victoria has 5000 hotel rooms on standby for returning Australians.
“It is a big step to take away someone’s liberty and make them go to a certain place and stay there for two weeks but this is life and death,” Mr Andrews said.
“There is too much at stake to do otherwise.”
Queensland said on Friday it had a total of 555 coronavirus cases, up 62 on Thursday.
Australia’s death toll from the virus remained at 13 on Friday afternoon. The most recent was a cruise ship passenger in his 70s who died in Western Australia late on Thursday.
Mr Morrison said the new quarantine measures were tough but insisted they were necessary and non-negotiable.
He urged Australians wanting to fly home to do so as quickly as possible, given countries are rapidly closing their borders as the deadly disease continues to spread.
“It won’t be too long before it will be very difficult to get back into Australia,” he said.
The states and territories will shoulder the cost of quarantine in hotels. That means NSW will have the greatest burden, as it has the most arrivals.