Confusion over PM's school call as states break ranks


Prime Minister Scott Morrison reportedly talked state premiers out of a more drastic national lockdown than the one announced on Sunday  that will see pubs, clubs, gyms, cafes, restaurants and cinemas shut from midday.

A raft of Australian businesses will be ordered to close today as Australia attempts to fight the spread of coronavirus in the country.

Australian infections have reached at least 1354 with seven deaths confirmed including six in NSW and one in WA. Confirmed cases in each state include 533 cases in NSW, 259 in QLD, 296 in VIC, 100 in SA, 120 in WA, 22 in TAS, 19 in ACT and 5 in the NT.

Record increase in new cases

Frank Chung

NSW now has 669 cases, a record one-day increase of 136.

In Victoria, there are now 355, an increase of 59 from yesterday.

That brings the national total to 1549.

NSW Chief Medical Officer Dr Kerry Chant said the previous highest increase in a 24-hour period was 97.

Of the NSW cases, 327 are overseas-acquired, 155 are contacts of confirmed cases or linked to "clusters under investigation", 65 are locally acquired and the rest are under investigation.

That means there are 122 cases where NSW Health still does not know the source of the infection.

Ten people are now in intensive care units in NSW.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said people were still not getting the message. "We had a case last week where a group of people, a dozen or so, went to a dinner party," he said.

"As best we can tell the dinner party started with one person who had the coronavirus. By the end of the dinner party almost everybody at the dinner party had the coronavirus."

Mr Andrews said the virus "spreads rapidly" and "if people simply behave as normal, if they don't take this seriously, if they act selfishly, then people will die".

"I can't be any clearer than that," he said.

  21m agoMarch 23, 2020HIGHLIGHT

'Keep your children at home'

Frank Chung

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is urging parents to keep their kids at home even though schools will remain open.

"For practical reasons, in NSW we will be encouraging parents to keep their children at home to ensure there is one single unit of teaching," she told reporters.

"Already last week we had up to 30 per cent of parents who chose to keep their students or their children at home and we appreciate and anticipate that number will increase."

Ms Berejiklian stressed that "for parents that have no option, the school is safe for children to attend" and that "no child will be turned away from school".

  30m agoMarch 23, 2020HIGHLIGHT

Victorian term two still going ahead

Frank Chung

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is speaking to the media now.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is also doing her press conference.

Mr Andrews says term two is still scheduled to begin on April 14 and "people should plan" for that "unless I have medical advice not to proceed with term two".

"I'm not making that announcement today," he said.

"We have taken the decision, and the Chief Health Officer of Victoria is completely comfortable and supportive of this, to bring forward the school holidays and to spend these precious days without kids at school to plan for remote, flexible, distance learning in the evident that we need to move to that way of teaching and learning."

  37m agoMarch 23, 2020HIGHLIGHT

'If you just let me try and explain'

Frank Chung

Today host Karl Stefanovic wasn't as kind as Michael Rowland.

Dan Tehan appeared straight afterwards on Channel Nine, where there was a pretty fiery exchange between the pair.

The Education Minister denied that the conflicting messages from the states and federal government were confusing - or even that the feds were saying something different than their counterparts.

"I'm not entirely sure what world you live in or what planet you live on if you don't think parents are confused," Stefanovic said.

"Because right now, you're saying stay open. It's OK and it's safe for your kids to go to school. The Victorian government are saying they're not going. That is immediately confusing. Right there. That is confusing. Right there. That is confusing. Do you agree?"

Mr Tehan replied, "Well, Karl, I live on the same planet as you do."

Stefanovic insisted, "Stefanovic Victoria are not sending their schools to school and you're saying OK. That's confusing."

The Minister pressed on. "Well, Karl, if you just let me try and explain to your viewers, because this is incredibly important," he said.

"What Victoria have done is brought their school holidays forward to Wednesday. And they will be putting in place arrangements to move to online education. But they're also going to be working through what needs to be done to make sure that all our essential services workers, that their children can attend school during that time."

  1h agoMarch 23, 2020HIGHLIGHT

'Not taking advice from Twitter'

Frank Chung

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan insists schools should remain open, saying the government is not taking advice from armchair experts on social media.

"What we have to do is take the expert medical advice," he said on ABC News this morning, where he was grilled on the ongoing confusion.

"If we don't do that, what do we do? Do we take the expert medical advice on Twitter, on Facebook? This opinion or that opinion? We can't be doing that. We've got to listen to the panel which has been brought together which is is taking the best advice we can get around the country, from our scientists, from our universities, from our best medical professionals."

Mr Tehan said the medical advice to the national cabinet from federal, state and territory advisers on the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee had not changed.



"The medical panel, which has the federal Chief Medical Officer on it and all of the state and territory Chief Medical Officers, said schools should remain open," he said.

Victoria, however, has brought forward its school holidays to Tuesday, as has the ACT. NSW is reportedly set to "strongly encourage" parents to keep their kids home.

Mr Tehan said "obviously that's a decision for the Premier of NSW".

"But what everyone agreed last night was that schools should remain open and schools are open today," he said.

"Now, some states will move to put their education online as we head towards the school holidays. Others will say to parents, 'If you keep your kids at home, then there will be material available for you to be able to continue your children's education.'"

He added, "So states and territories are working through all of this at the moment, but the Chief Medical Officer's advice, and that of the medical panel, which includes all of the Chief Medical Officers from the states and territories, is that it is safe to send your kids to school, and that schools should remain open."

  1h agoMarch 23, 2020HIGHLIGHT

ACT schools to close from Tuesday

Frank Chung

ACT schools will close on Tuesday as teachers plan how to keep classes operating during the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision comes as ACT Education Minister Yvette Berry said a case of COVID-19 had been identified as connected to Lyneham High School, forcing its closure on Monday.

The school is now seeking to identify and notify any people who have been in recent contact with the affected person, as well as organising a thorough clean of facilities.

Staff, students, parents and carers are not required to self-quarantine at home unless they have already been contacted directly by ACT Health. But anyone who is unwell should stay at home.

All other ACT schools will be open on Monday but will start pupil-free days from Tuesday through to the school holidays.

The number of coronavirus cases in the nation's capital more than doubled yesterday from nine to 19. Most had recently returned from overseas.

- Paul Osborne, AAP

  1h agoMarch 23, 2020HIGHLIGHT

3000 new staff for Services Australia

Frank Chung

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says the government is bringing on more than 3000 new staff at Services Australia to handle "an abundance" of coronavirus claims.

As part of the $66 billion "safety net" package announced yesterday, there will be a $550 coronavirus supplement payment and support payments of up to $100,000 for small businesses.

"It was about about cushioning the blow for millions of Australians who are going to do it really tough over the weeks and months ahead," Mr Frydenberg told Sky News this morning.

"Tragically people will lose their jobs and businesses will close."

Mr Frydenberg said the government was focused on expediting the claims process and reducing bottlenecks.

"That's a real priority for us," he said.

"We're doing everything we can at the federal government level to support the community at this challenging period."

Parliament will sit today and possibly tomorrow, Mr Frydenberg said, depending on how quickly the government's coronavirus legislation can be passed.

"We're very confident we can get this through quickly," he said.

  2h agoMarch 23, 2020HIGHLIGHT

Selfish travellers 'spread the virus'

Frank Chung

Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy had some harsh words for "irresponsible" Australians last night.

Prof Murphy and Prime Minister Scott Morrison blamed the drastic new lockdown measures on another dramatic surge in coronavirus cases over the weekend and continued failure by the public to heed health advice.

"Many of the cases that we have seen in the last few days have been from international travellers," Prof Murphy said.



"We've seen some irresponsible behaviour from people who were told to quarantine and have not. And they have spread the virus. We now have to be absolutely rigid. If you come back from anywhere, a cruise ship, a plane, and you come back to this country, you go home and you quarantine for two weeks, no exceptions. You are putting your fellow Australians at risk if you break that rule."

Total confirmed COVID-19 cases passed 1000 on the weekend and now stand at 1354. They appear to be doubling every few days.

Prof Murphy said it was possible to "control and contain, bend and flatten the curve", but "every single Australian has to play their role in doing this."

"We have to save our vulnerable Australians from what could be, and we've seen this in other countries, fairly devastating impacts if we get a widespread pandemic in this country."

Read more here.

  2h agoMarch 23, 2020HIGHLIGHT

NSW to announce school decision

Frank Chung

NSW schools will remain open but parents will be "strongly encouraged" to keep their children at home if possible, Sky News is reporting.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian is expected to speak at around 8am.

She will reportedly announce that schools will remain open so children of health workers and emergency services still have somewhere to go.

The goal will be to limit the number of students close together and allow schools to reduce to "skeleton staff".

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews will also be speaking - helpfully, also at 8am - about what's happening with schools in that state.

Victoria has already announced it is bringing forward its Easter school holidays to Tuesday. Schools in the ACT will also close from Tuesday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisted last night that the health advice had not changed and his position was schools should remain open.

Read more here.

  4h agoMarch 23, 2020HIGHLIGHT

PM 'walked back' states from lockdown

Victoria Craw

The Prime Minister reportedly "walked back" states from enforcing a complete lockdown across Australia in response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to reports.

Scott Morrison chaired a National Cabinet meeting on Sunday and afterwards announced a raft of "stage one" measures including a shutdown of bars, clubs, gyms and restaurants. What a "stage two" lockdown would look like has not yet been revealed.

It came after the Victorian State government moved to implement a shutdown of all non-essential activity and bring forward the school holidays to Tuesday.

The Australian reports NSW and Victorian leaders were pushing for a full scale lockdown with only supermarkets, petrol stations, pharmacies, convenience stores open, along with freight and logistical services.

Read more at The Australian.

Originally published as PM 'walked back' states from lockdown

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