Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison addressed the nation on Wednesday to give an update on the coronavirus situation following last night’s announcement of tighter measures. These included travel bans, crowd restrictions at funerals and weddings, and an end to auctions and open houses.
Mr Morrison said the National Cabinet is meeting this evening again to deal with matters already in process, however there will be no new announcements following the meeting. Reassuring Australia that the federal government, states and all other authorities are working together, he announced the “establishment of a national Covid-19 coordination commission” to deal with administrative problems caused by coronavirus from ensuring that supply lines are kept open to supermarkets to other issues.
Neville Power, who brings both high level business expertise and a strong commitment to social issues – will lead this commission, with CSIRO Head David Thodey (former head of Telstra) with a board of eminent Australians, including Greg Combet, Jane Halten, Paul Little, Catherine Tanna and others. “They will reach out and into corporate Australia to solve problems,” he said.
They will be joined by the Secretaries of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Mr Philip Gaetjens and Home Affairs, Mr Mike Pezzullo.
“We’ve got the best people in this country working to deal with the challenges we are confronting to ensure we get through to the other side,” Mr Morrison reassured the nation.
Mr Power said “Australia needs to focus on mitigating the crisis on our businesses, people and community” to ensure the preservation of jobs.
“My role is going to be looking for those problems and looking for opportunities to work with businesses to mitigate these problems,” he said, and would look at the efficiency of services, the way equipment is redeployed and protect supply chains and utilities. The new commission would also look to the future to “ensure we can restore people’s jobs as quickly as we can afterwards.”
Mr Morrison assured people that all is being done to contain the crisis with more than 162,000 tests for Covid-19 which is five times what it is at the UK, 25 times the US numbers and higher than Korea “placing us at the top of the leaders board”.
All elective surgery is being suspended in private and public hospitals to ensure that the focus is on the virus, only emergency cases will be operated upon.
Asked about why there was no total lockdown, Mr Morrison said: “Well, you’re suggesting that I should close down businesses where there’s no medical advice that should? I don’t understand why you would cause that harm to a business and their workers and livelihoods for the sake of a message convenience. I think that that would be quite reckless. What we’re seeking to do is put in place measure on a scalable basis. Last night, I gave a very clear list of those businesses that were unable to continue in their premises because of the risk of the spread of coronavirus.”
He reassured that the government would not do things to harm “someone’s job and livelihood where, at this stage, that may not be necessary.”
He said people should stay at home if they are sick.
“The most dangerous thing that you can do, and we know of people who are sick and have sought to go to pharmacies. And that is very dangerous. And so the most important part of the message that we’re seeking to get out is that message.”
Asked about the different measures in place at different states, Mr Morrison said that the goal was to ensure as much consistency as possible however additional measures may be applied “because it is absolutely true that the situation in New South Wales is different to that in Victoria, and to that of Western Australia; and in particular, the Northern Territory and Tasmania. And where possible, they are seeking to ensure a consistent approach, but the issue of hitting higher thresholds and other measures is a matter that is being discussed by the national cabinet.”
He said that the government is managing two crises: “an economic one and a health one; and they’re impacting on our country in different ways across the country.”
He asked the media to be patient, adding that the night before there was criticism that a text messaging service was not in place whereas he knew that one would be in place first thing this morning. An official text message is beingsent to mobile phones across the country. It reads: “Coronavirus Aus Gov msg: to stop the spread, stay 1.5m from others, follow rules on social gatherings, wash hands, stay home if sick. Aus.gov.au”.