Police were out in force on major roads and at holiday hotspots across the country on Good Friday as authorities made sure city residents weren’t escaping to the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The enforced lockdown came as Australia’s death toll rose to 54 and medical officials warned the public against believing misinformation about supposed virus cures.
In Tasmania, Premier Peter Gutwein called out rescue helicopters to track people’s movements. They were hovering over towns such as Bicheno, Friendly Beaches, Coles Bay, Dunalley and Primrose Sands on Friday.
By Friday afternoon, Tasmanian police had told more than 15 people to go home. They had also intercepted more than 35 people in cars – including some towing caravans and boats – and turned them back.
The Easter weekend has been described as a critical period in Australia’s fight against the deadly coronavirus. Daily numbers of new cases have been falling for a week as the country appears to be successfully “flattening the curve”.
By Friday afternoon, Australia had 54 coronavirus fatalities – the most recent being a 69-year-old man who died in Newcastle, and a Victorian man in his 80s.
There were just over 6100 confirmed cases nationwide.
The global death toll from coronavirus is almost 96,000 with more than 1.6 million known cases. More than 354,000 people, meanwhile, have recovered, according to the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus tracker.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly on Friday rubbished claims that a cure for coronavirus has been found, saying that spreading such misinformation was illegal.
“There has been some media around, some claims of a cure for this virus,” Professor Kelly said.
“I just want to reiterate there is no specific treatment yet proven to be able to cure this virus,” he added.
Professor Kelly said there were several treatments in development and undergoing clinical trials, and that was “the appropriate place for those things to be used”.
Heavy police presence
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Corboy told Nine’s Today on Friday that police would be “heavily visible” on the roads.
“We will be out there from the Queensland border to the Victorian border, looking at people travelling on our highways and on our back roads,” he said.
NSW drivers who are pulled over this weekend without a good excuse to be on the road face $1000 fines.
“Right around the state, police are reporting there’s a good deal of consideration and compliance with those requests around not travelling and social distancing,” NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said on Friday.
“The movement of people with caravans and holidaymakers with surfboards and camping gear – it is almost non-existent.”
It was a similar story in Queensland, where anyone returning to the state now must do 14 days quarantine.
Health Minister Steven Miles said 897 returned travellers would spend their Easter weekend in enforced quarantine.
“This is not the weekend for going away,” he said.
“I was heartened that a highway near here on the day before Good Friday … would normally be chockers, normally would be bumper-to-bumper, and there was barely a car on the road. Similarly this morning, the highways are [empty]. That is good news.”
Rise in travellers
However, in South Australia residents of the Fleurieu Peninsula were dismayed at the number of holidaymakers arriving in coastal towns.
Goolwa resident Polly Green told ABC News Breakfast locals in popular south coast tourist towns such as Port Elliott and Victor Harbour, and on the other side of the peninsula in Normanville, had noticed a rise in travellers.
She said while it was so far less busy than the typical Easter, a stream of tourists had arrived in recent weeks, and the local population was continuing to swell.
“We’ve got quite a few hundred here at the moment, which is less than thousands and thousands, but we’re very concerned,” Ms Green said.
“Going down the beaches, families, a lot of young kids, surfing – the locals have been talking [about this] on social media.”
Ms Green said she saw caravans heading into town on Thursday, despite local accommodation being closed.
In Victoria, there have been anecdotal reports of similar numbers descending on holiday towns.
Victorians with holiday homes are legally allowed visit them this weekend, although the state government has urged them not to.
Many of the beaches along the Surf Coast are closed and only locals or permitted visitors can use them for exercise.
Police were also focusing on holiday towns along the Great Ocean Road.
Victorian Prevention of Family Violence Minister Gabrielle Williams said staying home was the best way to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“If we want to continue to hold back the spread of coronavirus, then we need to stay home and vigilance is key, she said.
“There is no need to relax at the moment; it is critical that we don’t.”