Governments are on the verge of approving dramatic lockdowns of the worst coronavirus-hit Australian communities in a desperate attempt to slow the exponential growth of the deadly disease before tens of thousands die from it.
Victoria and New South Wales will also push for a halt on non-essential activities. It would include the closure of non-essential businesses such as restaurants and pubs.
Victoria will also push for schools to be shut from Tuesday. If it cannot reach a wider agreement with the Federal Government, the state will go it alone.
Political leaders on Sunday night will consider urgent and draconian powers allowing authorities to shut down so-called COVID-19 “red zones”, meaning state police officers would prevent residents from travelling to less infected suburbs or areas.
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At the national cabinet meeting the Prime Minister, premiers and chief ministers will discuss how to best implement emergency restrictions like those adopted in parts of Europe and in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
“We had scheduled our next meeting to focus on the issue of further and stronger measures to deal with local outbreaks within state jurisdictions,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“We are bringing forward consideration of those matters to a meeting this evening”.
The dramatic national approach would likely be assisted by the federal departments of Health and Home Affairs, and was flagged earlier this month by Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter, who warned the Commonwealth may need to use unprecedented quarantine laws to restrict the movement of people.
Over the weekend health authorities were dismayed by numerous examples of crowds ignoring guidelines on social distancing, instead people cramming into popular locations such as Bondi Beach.
“What happened at Bondi Beach yesterday was not OK and served as a message to federal and state leaders that too many Australians are not taking these issues seriously enough,” Mr Morrison said.
The country’s rate of new confirmed coronavirus cases is now growing at 20-25 per cent a day, with some projections showing as many as two million Australians could be infected by the end of April.
If those numbers were reached, tens of thousands of people would be dead, based on the mortality rate recorded by China earlier this year.