Australia has taken a global lead in testing people for coronavirus – with a rate of more than 1000 tests per 100,000 people.
That represents 1 per cent of the country’s population.
“We are the first country to the best of our knowledge that has been able to exceed that mark,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.
The leap comes a week after Australia relaxed rules around testing for COVID-19.
Initially, only people who had returned from overseas recently or had been in contact with a confirmed case could get tested – if they were showing flu-like symptoms. As reports of suspected community transmission grew, that was expanded to anyone who felt they had the symptoms.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the enhanced testing regime complemented the “ring of steel” created around Australia through shutting borders to non-residents and citizens and introducing quarantine and isolation procedures for returning travellers.
The testing had resulted in an average of just below 2 per cent positive results.
The increase came on a bad day for Australia’s coronavirus fatalities, with three deaths taking the toll to 24.
They were women in their 60s and 70s, who died in Victoria, and an 85-year-old man who died in Toowoomba Hospital is Queensland.
Elsewhere on Thursday, Mr Morrison announced a $1.6 billion boost to make childcare free for all working parents for the next six months.
“If you have a job in this economy, then that is an essential job, in my view,” Mr Morrison said.
“It is important that all of those parents get access to childcare.”
The plan is aimed at helping Australia’s 13,000 childcare centres ride out the economic and health fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Free childcare will be offered from Sunday night (April 5), regardless of family income.
“We will be ensuring for those parents who are still in that position where they are needing childcare, it will be free,” he said.
“We will be putting in place support arrangements to the childcare facilities, some 13,000 of them, to ensure they remain open and be there for their parents to ensure they can do what they need to do each day.”
In other developments, two million Australian workers will be eligible for two weeks’ special “pandemic leave” after the Fair Work Commission fast-tracked changes to their working conditions.
The workers – in industries such as hospitality, clerical, retail and cleaning – will also be able to take their annual leave at half pay during the coronavirus outbreak if they need to.
Other changes will allow employees to work from home if they need to.
The amendments were confirmed by Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter on Thursday.
“These types of changes are absolutely critical,” he said.
“They would have saved tens of thousands of jobs.”
The workplace announcement came after a recent Australian Bureau of Statistics survey found half of all businesses had already taken a hit from the developing coronavirus outbreak. Many more – 86 per cent of businesses – expected to be affected in coming months.
Mr Porter said the fast-tracking on award amendments was achieved by co-operation between employer and worker groups.
They included the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Industry Group, individual employer associations, individual unions such as the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association.
“There has been the type of change in three weeks inside the award system that you might otherwise wait 30 years to see,” he said.
“The reform has been temporary. It is meant to last for as long as [the coronavirus] crisis lasts. It is critical and, ultimately, it has been incredibly co-operative.”