Prime Minister Scott Morrison has sought to calm the nation in a prime time television address Thursday night.
Speaking from Kirribilli House House, Mr Morrison updated the country on the novel coronavirus outbreak and its expected impact in Australia in the coming days and weeks, in a brief message that focused on the economy.
“This virus began in China and has now reached some 114 countries,” Mr Morrison said.
“The medical experts tell us that most people who contract this virus will experience a mild illness ... but for those more vulnerable, especially the elderly the risks are severe.”
While conceding the risks were serious, Mr Morrison sought to strike a note of calm control, detailing the government’s economic response to the crisis.
The Prime Minister did not reveal any new details but was keen to tout an economic stimulus package he unveiled Thursday saying “we all have a role to play”.
The government’s plan, he said, consists of three goals: “To protect Australia’s health, to secure jobs and livelihoods and to set Australia up to bounce back stronger.”
Earlier today, the federal government announced a nearly $18 billion economic stimulus package to mitigate against the worst of the economic hit expected from the virus outbreak.
The package includes funding for small businesses, pensioners and the aged care sector among its largest elements with the government promising a one-off payment of $750 to households receiving benefits payments.
Mr Morrison detailed the package saying the government was “backing businesses to keep investing and to help them buy equipment now.”
He also touted the $2.4 billion extra health spending which will be used to set up more than 100 pop-up coronavirus clinics around the country.
“We do still have a long way to go but be assured that we are taking action and we have a clear plan,” he said.
The Prime Minister called on every “nurse, doctor, and friend” to do their role for the nation.
“I know we’ll all do our bit.
“Thanks for listening, and good night Australia.”
Despite speculation, Mr Morrison did not add Europe to a travel ban that already includes China, South Korea, Iran and Italy.
‘Too much ad man’
While the unusual step to address the nation in such a fashion was designed to assure people the government is prepared and has a plan, many were left unsure as to why the address was necessary.
I dropped everything to listen to the PM. He had no new information. I’m really surprised. Was expecting major public health measures, not sunniness.
— Dom Knight (@domknight) March 12, 2020
Scomo was way too much ad-man then and not enough statesman. #auspol
— Mitchell Bingemann (@Mitch_Hell) March 12, 2020
This address by the Prime Minister sounds like one giant ad for the government's policies
— Natasha Robinson (@NC_Robinson) March 12, 2020
That address to the nation sounded like Scott Morrison was on FM radio giving away cold hard cash to some lucky listeners who call in.
Don’t matter who you voted for, he’s a hopeless leader.
— Dylan Leach (@leachitup) March 12, 2020
Australia now has 158 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) but that number is certain to rise in the coming days and weeks.
Judging from data observed in other countries where the virus has spread rapidly including China, South Korea, Italy and Iran, strong measures of “social distancing” and heavy testing are required to avoid a huge spike in cases as the virus makes its way through a population.
Currently the federal government is reportedly receiving advice that abandoning major public events is not necessary.
On Thursday, the ACT announced its first confirmed case of COVID-19, meaning the disease has now touched every state and territory in the country.
Two weeks ago, Italy had 322 confirmed cases of #covid19. Today it has 10,149 cases
— Emma Alberici (@albericie) March 12, 2020
The news comes as NSW Chief Medical Officer Kerry Chant told a senate Budget Estimates Committee on Health Thursday that it was predicted each person who contracted the novel coronavirus would likely transmit it to at least two other people.
“We’re nowhere near the peak,” she said, warning of a scenario that could see as many as 1.5 million people infected with the virus in NSW alone.
Leaders to meet Friday over virus outbreak
The spread of coronavirus is expected to consume the attention of Australia's political leaders at both federal and state levels as they meet in Sydney on Friday.
The usual agenda of the Council of Australian Governments meeting was thrown out as the coronavirus crisis well and truly reached Australian shores this week.
After releasing a $17.6 billion stimulus package Thursday, Mr Morrison said he expects the states to follow.
“What we're doing here, fully funded by the Commonwealth, fully administered by the Commonwealth, this is us doing the heavy lifting when it comes to addressing the real tough months ahead,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“But I would expect state governments would be looking at what they can do to complement that.”
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