A strong response from Australians everywhere has enabled the COVID-19 containment focus to shift towards increasingly strict controls over returning travellers, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said today.
“Thank you for the way, over the course of this week, you have responded to very significant changes we’ve asked you to make to your lives and livelihoods,” Mr Morrison said, noting that over a two-week period movement around the country has decreased by 80 per cent.
“Keep doing it, you are saving lives and livelihoods. This has been a significant shift and we need it to keep taking place around the country.”
By far the greatest source of infection in Australia is travellers returning from overseas, Mr Morrison said.
“We can focus on that because we are getting on top of our own movements and behaviour,” he said, describing Australia’s situation as “almost unique” in the world.
Isolation declaration cards must now be filled out by every returning Australian. From Saturday, all new arrivals in all states and territories will be placed in mandatory quarantine on arrival in hotels and other accommodation.
Australian Defence Forces will be called in to provide assistance with compliance. Mr Morrison said the ADF are not authorised as enforcement officers, which remains the responsibility of the police, but will assist with compliance where necessary.
They will also assist with enforcing home quarantine and carrying out compliance checks to make sure that people are where they are supposed to be at any time.
Mr Morrison said that Australian testing rates are among the highest in the world and also noted the significant value of the Australian social security safety net as the impacts of the virus roll through the economy.
“Businesses are adapting as well – they are being agile and adapting even under significant strain and stress,” he said. “For many others, this has been devastating.
“In this country … it’s something I was reminded of that we can be very proud of. Others are getting their standard of social support to the level Australians have in normal circumstances. By extending that support and proving greater eligibility we can help more people,” he said.
“We are in two fights – battling this virus and battling the economic crisis caused as a result of coronavirus. Both will take lives and livelihoods. We need to battle both enemies to our way of life.
“Every day someone is in a job for just another day is worth fighting for.”
Forecasting further economic stimulus measures, Mr Morrison said that there would be further announcements about plans to “hibernate” the economy.
“The idea is that businesses will have to close and keep closed. We want those businesses to start again. We don’t want them to be so saddled by debt and rental payments and other liabilities that they can’t start again on the other side,” he said.
“I can assure you I would rather be in Australia more than in any other country in the world today. We are getting on top of this and we can keep on top of this,” Mr Morrison said.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy said that authorities remain “very worried” about the 3000 COVID-19 cases in Australia, a situation not helped by the cruise ships that have docked or sought to dock in Australian ports. He said that while there is no evidence of significant community transmission apart from a few small pockets of the country, that was the next major focus.
“We are pretty confident with the testing regime, but we’re not kidding ourselves. If transmission becomes significant that is the real concern. That’s why social distancing so important for the long haul, for several months, that every citizen complies with,” Professor Murphy said.