Victoria goes into lockdown in 48 hours: Premier
This coronavirus article is unlocked and free to read in the interest of community health and safety. For full access to the Herald Sun/Leader journalism, subscribe here.
Victoria will be shut down over the next 48 hours with only essential services to remain open.
All schools will be shut from Tuesday, as 67 new coronavirus cases were confirmed overnight.
This is the largest one-day increase yet, and brings the state's tally to 296 cases - at least three of which were acquired through community transmission.
Premier Daniel Andrews will tell the national cabinet tonight that he will "implement a shutdown of all non-essential activity across our state to combat the spread of coronavirus".
Supermarkets, banks, pharmacies and other essential stores such as petrol stations and convenience stores will be able to remain open, along with freight, logistics and home delivery services.
The move to close Victorian schools has broken from the federal government's national approach, the deputy chief medical officer said.
Mr Andrews said a decision on whether to reopen schools after the term break would be "determined following advice from the Chief Health Officer".
"I will have more to say on these measures tomorrow morning," he said.
"All measures to be implemented by Victoria are consistent with the health advice provided by the Victorian Chief Health Officer."
"This is not something that we do lightly, but it's clear that if we don't take this step, more Victorians will contract coronavirus, our hospitals will be overwhelmed and more Victorians will die."
SCHOOLS TO SHUT FROM TUESDAY
The Herald Sun understands Premier Daniel Andrews will lobby at tonight's national cabinet meeting to close all schools from Tuesday.
If his stance is not supported, the state government will go it alone and close schools anyway.
Victoria and New South Wales are also pushing for Australia to go into complete lockdown, with only essential services remaining open.
This would see the closure of pubs and restaurants and other "non-essential" public venues.
The state government has been preparing to move schools to online learning over the last fortnight.
With school holidays due to start at the end of the week, an early closure of classrooms from Tuesday would give authorities time to lock in online arrangements to ensure the education system can continue.
VICTORIA BREAKS AWAY FROM NATIONAL APPROACH TO SCHOOLS
Speaking shortly after midday on Sunday, deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said it was not his advice for schools to be closed, despite signals from the NSW and Victorian governments that they were moving that way, regardless of Morrison Government support.
"The Prime Minister is very keen on keeping a federal, national approach but each of states and territories have their own particular issues that they need to deal with," he said.
"For schools at the moment, there is no change but … things are moving quickly."
He said the risk to students was low and there were still very few cases of children with the coronavirus.
"There is much that schools can do and are doing to protect kids and to protect staff," Professor Kelly said.
"There have been very few cases of COVID-19 in children in Australia.
"Kids are not getting sick at the moment.
"In terms of school closures, that could be effective later in the epidemic. My own view is that is not necessary at the moment."
He said Education Minister Dan Tehan was working closely with state and territory partners to manage the situation.
67 NEW CASES CONFIRMED, 3 FROM COMMUNITY TRANSMISSION
Six people are recovering in hospital, 70 people have recovered completely, and more than 22,900 Victorians have been tested to date.
The new cases include 42 men and 25 women, with people aged from late teens to early eighties.
Of the confirmed cases in Victoria, the Department of Health has revealed that three of them were acquired through community transmission.
A total of 256 of the cases are in metropolitan Melbourne with the remaining 25 cases in regional Victoria.
There are eight cases in the Greater Geelong area and three in Ballarat, while the Surf Coast, Warrnambool and Macedon Ranges recorded two each.
Latrobe, Yarriambiack, Gannawarra, Hepburn, Moorabool, Mitchell, Mildura and Greater Shepparton have all recorded one case also.
In a new statement, the Department of Health warned that those who don't comply with social distancing regulations could receive a fine of up to $20,000, while companies face fines of as much as $100,000 with Victoria Police enforcing the directives.
PRINCIPALS APPLAUD SCHOOL CLOSURES
Principals groups have welcomed the plan to close Victorian schools.
And with just four days left of the school term - Victoria has announced a statewide student-free day for Friday - the impact of school closures was expected to be less keenly felt in Victoria than other states.
Victorian Principals Association president Anne-Marie Kliman said closures were "inevitable" and that there had been a high level of community pressure to shut campuses down.
"Principals are already having to deal with high pressure in their communities," she said.
"People are already taking their kids and walking away," she said.
Data from Compass shows student absences in schools across Australia skyrocketed through the week.
On Monday, 18.5 per cent of students were not in school and were using the education platform off-site - double the rate of student absence to the same time in 2019.
By Friday, the number of pupils away had risen to 27.5 per cent.
Australian Principals' Federation federal president Julie Podbury said if schools close "there will be a lot of relieved people".
"Staff are really starting to panic."
As stronger measures to deal with the coronavirus pandemic were announced through the week, education staff raised heightened concerns over the potential of exposure in schools for those who were medically vulnerable or with sick and elderly loved ones.
The Department of Education then urged principals to assist in allowing medically vulnerable staff to work from home.
But that direction caused further issues for principals, who still required staff to care for students while campuses were still open.
Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Sue Bell said it wasn't known whether a school closure would mean the campus was completely shut, or if staff could still work on-site.
She questioned whether the closures would include childcare centres.
"Closure if a very strong word and we don't know what that means yet," she said.
She believed teachers would be pleased if schools were shut amid raising health and safety concerns.
PRIME MINISTER ANNOUNCES NEW STIMULUS MEASURES
All non-essential travel will be halted under new strict regulations being announced by the Prime Minister this morning.
Scott Morrison highlighted that some Australians were not abiding by social distancing measures, and as such, state premiers may have to introduce "draconian measures".
"What happened at Bondi Beach yesterday was not OK … Too many Australians are not taking these issues seriously enough," he said
"We need [Australians] to comply with the healthy distancing, the social distancing measures that we have put in place."
Mr Morrison said a $189 billion package will support pensioners and other vulnerable members of the community, cushion the blow for small businesses and shield from bankruptcy.
"There is no quick solution. We have to steel ourselves for at least the next six months," he said.
The measures include doubling job seeker allowances, early access to superannuation and up to $100,000 cash for small to medium businesses.
Asset tests and waiting periods will be waived for unemployed Australians trying to access welfare payments.
Mr Morrison said non-essential travel included interstate and long-distance travel rather than getting to work or picking up food at the shops.
But he warned that families should cancel their school holiday travels, despite the impact it will have on those communities relying on tourism.
"It does mean those holidays you might have been planing to take interstate over the holidays … cancel them," he said.
ANGLICAN CHURCH SERVICES SUSPENDED
Melbourne's Anglican services will be suspended from tomorrow to try and contain the spread of COVID-19.
The Archbishop of Melbourne called an emergency meeting on Saturday after which he wrote to Anglicans advising of the mass suspension.
All public services and parish organised group activities have been suspended indefinitely.
Pastors have moved to running online services and using social media to publish sermons and other messages to their communities.
The move follows a similar initiative by the Catholic Church who last week suspended masses across much of the country.
Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier said the decision was not a closure of all ministry.
"The need for Christian ministry is only likely to be heightened over the new weeks and months but it will need to happen in new forms," he said.
"I hope that our churches can remain open for prayer and contemplation within the current restrictions but can imagine that further tightening of these restrictions may also close that option off."
Archbishop Freier said Easter services would not proceed as planned.
"The public reports of the number of COVID-19 infections show that we are at the beginning of an exponential rate of infection," he said.
"It is to be hoped that this can be stopped but the restricted availability of testing means that the reports of infection we are seeing are unlikely to account for all cases of infection."
VICHEALTH CEO URGES VICTORIANS TO STAY HOME
Dr Sandro Demaio, CEO of VicHealth has encouraged Victorians, especially young people, to stay at home as much as possible
"It's really common sense, limiting the interaction we have with other people," he told 3AW.
"Limit the time you're spending outside and spending with others."
"For everyone, regardless of their age, regardless of how they feel … We are really encouraging everyone to practice social distancing."
Dr Demaio said that leaving the house should only be for essential trips.
"If you're going to the shops, go and do a shop for yourself and your neighbours," he said.
"If you're going for a walk, don't go with other people or interact with other people."
"There's no need to panic and there's no need to close essential functions, but I think having people over for dinner is not necessary.
"We can do that in a month or two months when all this passes.
"It's a delicate balance not wanting to overstep and send people into a panic.
"Young people going for walks, going out for drinks, could be doing a lot more."
The same sentiment has been echoed by health professionals Australia wide, with clinical immunologist Dr Dan Suan urging people to take social isolation seriously.
"Stay at home and don't leave the home unless you absolutely have to," he told the ABC yesterday.
"Social isolation is not an act of fear, it's an act of love.
"The reason you're doing it is in order to protect yourself, your family, your friends and their family.
"The safest thing you can do for yourself and all the people that you love is to bring yourself back into your home, stay safe at home, and not be part of the transmission process of this virus.
"We have to break the transmission from person to person, that's the only way we'll flatten the curve."
VICTORIANS URGED TO DO THEIR 'CIVIC DUTY'
The Premier admitted that Victoria will "get to a very bad place in terms of public health" in the weeks and months ahead.
Mr Andrews urged Victorians to listen to the government's advice on isolation measures and social distancing, saying that efforts to contain the virus are "no joke".
"Thousands of people are almost pretending this isn't real. It is real," the premier said. "We have to play a part, the social distancing measures are serious. There is no joking about this.
"If we don't flatten the curve and suppress the number of people testing positive, the spread of the virus (will continue), hospitals will be overwhelmed and that means more people will die.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton echoed the Premier's words, saying young people in particular need to take social distancing rules more seriously.
"Someone is dying every two minutes in Italy from coronavirus and so, if you care about the people around you, if you think about protecting your family then you have to think about making that distance between you and other people in all settings at all times whatever size," he said.
FORESHORE CAMPS CLOSE
Campers have been evicted from the Mornington Peninsula foreshore in extreme measures by the council to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Ron and Lorraine Hulme are among dozens of people who had set up home at Rosebud campground and now must leave with amenities being switched off at 5pm today.
Mornington Peninsula Shire notified the campers on Friday that council-managed campgrounds along the McCrae, Rosebud, Rye and Sorrento foreshores would close as it was "a necessary step to protect our community and do our part to flatten the curve of this pandemic".
Mr Hulme, 73, said the measures "didn't make sense".
"They say they want to assist in controlling the spread of the virus, but what are we meant to do, disappear into thin air? Where are we going to go?" he said.
The Hulmes, who had lived in Frankston for 40 years and sold everything three years ago to travel around Australia, have been at the campground since October and had paid to stay until April 25.
Mornington Peninsula Shire mayor Sam Hearn said the council was disappointed its camping season had to end early. "We had advice from health authorities, because there's the share amenities, to start the process of closing the camp site and we'll refund the fees pro rata," he said.
BATTLE OVER START TO FOOTY
The AFL has warned community and junior footy leagues against taking to the field in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Yarra Junior Football League intends to start its season on May 3, despite the AFL urging all Victorian leagues and Auskick centres to halt play until at least May 31 to fight the spread of the virus.
The state's 82 leagues had been told not to play, said AFL Victoria's Will Carter.
"Protecting participants, spectators, coaches, umpires and volunteers to help mitigate risks of COVID-19 spreading in public environments is the number one priority," the league spokesman said.
"Continuing operating Community Clubs and programs risks those environments becoming a mode for spreading the infection."
YJFL chief executive Tim Murray said the league would monitor the situation and take advice from the Federal Government but hoped to resume training and start playing matches within weeks.
"The AFL recommends games starting on May 31, and we completely understand the AFL's rationale for this recommendation," he said.
"The AFL has to consider the gathering of larger crowds, individual leagues' ability to follow hygiene protocols generally and any issues relating to the movement of AFL players into the VFL competition.
"Not all these criteria are relevant for us."
The Picola and District Football and Netball League is expected to start its season on April 4 and other leagues are weighing their options.
- Peter Rolfe
CRACKING THE EGG PROBLEM
Victorians have turned to planting their own vegie patches and even stocking up on hens to ensure a supply of eggs as supermarket shelves remain empty.
Darren and Rebecca Walker and their son Benjamin, 11, drove almost 70km to Talking Hens poultry suppliers in Merricks yesterday to buy two chickens.
Ms Walker said a lack of produce at their local supermarket in Mount Waverley, including dwindling numbers of eggs, had prompted her to buy the young laying birds. "The eggs your own chickens lay are magnificent, so I'm building up my flock at the moment due to the shortages at the shop," she said.
Talking Hens owner and manager Jason Nethercott said supermarket shortages had led to a tenfold increase in visitors to the farm. "We usually have 100 people or so a week, but this last week it was shy of a thousand and now our whole flock is gone," he said.
Mr Nethercott said families were trying to be more self-sufficient when it came to food production.
"When people discovered there were no longer eggs on the shelves at supermarkets, they decided it's a good idea to have a few good laying breeds in the backyard," he said.
- Rhiannon Down
MORE CORONAVIRUS NEWS:
Originally published as Victoria goes into lockdown in 48 hours: Premier