Coronavirus crisis: What you need to know about COVID-19 from today, March 18, 2020

What you need to know as COVID-19 cases climb

Australia now has more than 550 cases of COVID-19, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced far-reach restrictions on non-essential gatherings of more than 100 people indoors. Schools, workplaces and public transport are set to stay open.

There are now 559 cases of COVID-19 in Australia, including 267 cases in NSW, 121 in Victoria, 94 in Queensland, 35 in WA, 32 in SA, 7 in Tasmania and 3 in the ACT.

A fifth person in NSW has died with COVID-19.

The 86-year-old man died last night in a Sydney Hospital, NSW Health said.

It is the sixth death in Australia, after a man died in Western Australia earlier this month.

The total number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Victoria rose to 121 with 27 new patients identified.

The new cases include 14 men and 13 women, with people aged from late teens to early 70s. The Department of Health and Human Services is continuing to investigate all new cases.

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in NSW's Illawarra Shoalhaven region has risen to six while in the Hunter region another four people have been diagnosed.

Stay home, go to school, don't hoard stuff

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced this morning Australia would upgrade its travel advice to level four - "do not travel" - for every country around the world for the first time in history.

"That is a very clear instruction," the PM said. "For those of you who were thinking of going overseas in the school holidays, don't."

Yes, he mentioned schools - a topic of much conjecture.

They will stay open, the PM said, but the situation will be monitored and could change.

Scott Morrison's Blue Steel look. Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

Scott Morrison's Blue Steel look. Photo: Dion Georgopoulos

Tasmania's Public Health Services director Mark Veitch agreed and today has reaffirmed that the Apple Isle's schools remain open as they are a "low-risk environments". In Victoria, schools are working around government guidelines to ensure students' safety.

Mr Morrison also spoke about new guidelines for aged-care residences, the new limit on inside gatherings (now 100 people or more is banned) and the selfishness of hoarding.

All the information you need about supermarket opening times and restrictions

Supermarkets and retailers across Australia are adjusting their opening hours as the federal government bans all non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people.

Already toilet rolls, tinned goods, pasta and hand sanitiser were proving hard to come by as panic-buyers prepare for the weeks ahead.

Some towns have been forced to forced to implement a locals-only policy, after reports of out-of-town tourist buying out local supplies. But most places just need to treat with with respect, the supermarkets said. Here's a full list of shop openings and restricted items.

Let's close our borders from the rest of Australia: No.1

A Northern Tasmanian specialist has called for more aggressive measures from the state government to combat the coronavirus.

Dr Christopher Reid says Premier Peter Gutwein needs to consider closing Tasmania's air and sea terminals to stop the spread of the virus.

"That is the only way to truly lockdown the virus before it's too late. That's why Hong Kong and Singapore have managed to control it. We need Mr Gutwein to take control for our state's sake," he said.

Let's close our borders from the rest of Australia: No.2

Katherine's mayor has called for the Northern Territory border to be closed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.

Mayor Fay Miller says more needed to be done to reduce the potential risks of COVID-19 in the Northern Territory.

Katherine's mayor Fay Miller says the risk is too high to keep the NT borders open. Picture: Tom Danks.

Katherine's mayor Fay Miller says the risk is too high to keep the NT borders open. Picture: Tom Danks.

"The Territory is moving far too slowly on this matter," she said. "The NT borders need to be closed to reduce the risk of a spread.

"We only have one case here, but if it gets into our communities it could wreak havoc."

NSW rescue package tops $2 billion

The NSW Government today announced a major $2.3 billion health boost and economic stimulus package to protect the community and help protect jobs in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak over the next six months. It's two key components are $700 million in extra health funding and $1.6 billion in tax cuts to support jobs.

  • $700 million extra funding for NSW Health. This will assist in doubling ICU capacity, preparing for additional COVID-19 testing, purchasing additional ventilators and medical equipment, establishing acute respiratory clinics and bringing forward elective surgeries to private hospitals;

Business support and jobs

  • $450 million for the waiver of payroll tax for businesses with payrolls of up to $10 million for three months (the rest of 2019-20). This means these businesses will save a quarter of their annual payroll tax bill in 2019-20.
  • $56 million to bring forward the next round of payroll tax cuts by raising the threshold limit to $1 million in 2020-21;
  • $80 million to waive a range of fees and charges for small businesses including bars, cafes, restaurants and tradies;
  • $250 million to employ additional cleaners of public infrastructure such as transport assets, schools and other public buildings;
  • More than $250 million to bring forward maintenance on public assets including social housing and crown land fencing;
  • $500 million to bring forward capital works and maintenance.
  • Payroll tax waivers will be administered by Revenue NSW.
  • Waivers of fees and charges for small businesses will be facilitated through Service NSW.

Hanx, out

He was hammered for his enthusiastic Vegemite coverage during lockdown on the Gold Coast, but Tom Hanks is back home and grateful.

When 'she'll be alright, mate' does not really cut it

Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Krishnankutty Rajesh wrote for an ACM masthead about the COVID-19 risk, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, and precautions everyone can take. Read it all here.

This is a little bit chilling:

"If, for example, you cough into your palm and then hold the handle of the shopping trolley at Woolworths or Coles the virus gets transferred to the handle and infects everyone touching the handle of that particular trolley for almost 72 hours. Can we even begin to imagine how many adults and children will touch that handle in that time?"

Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Krishnankutty Rajesh.

Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Krishnankutty Rajesh.

Yup, everyone's dealing with change - penguins, too

You may have seen these guys on TV checking out their aquarium from a different point-of-view when they went for a wander recently. Here's the choice behind-the-scenes footage and does it get any cuter than penguins walking down stairs?

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