Prime minister Scott Morrison has announced further restrictions on mass gatherings in public to combat the spread of COVID-19. The decision follows the first coronavirus crisis meeting of the government’s newly minted national cabinet. “Non-essential” indoor events will now be limited to 100 people or fewer, significantly down from the 500 or fewer announced on March 13. Outdoor events will continue to be capped at 500 people. Enforcement of these rules will be a responsibility of state governments.
Places exempt from the rule include supermarkets and shopping centres where essential goods are sold, hotels and motels, public squares (such as Martin Place or Taylor Square), airports, train stations and other transport hubs, and medical facilities.
The announcement will be a blow to the hospitality and retail industries, which have been hard hit by the impact of social distancing advice. In recent days, major events as far away as May have been cancelled, and major tourist attractions such as the Sydney Opera House are now closed to visitors.
The prime minister commended Australian employers for allowing their workforces to work from home, adding that these “sensible practices” were the best way to defend the country from the viral pandemic that has prompted severe restrictions on public movement in other major cities around the world. “Social distancing should be observed at all times,” Morrision advised. “We should all be maintaining a 1.5-metre distance from other people wherever practicable.”
Schools and universities will remain open – although many independent institutions have already elected to send students home to learn online. Morrison defended the decision to keep places of learning operational saying of the current social restrictions, “Whatever we do, we have to do for at least six months. Make no mistake, [the disruption] would be severe. What do I mean by severe? Tens of thousands of jobs could be lost, if not more.”
For now, however, Morrison said there would be no widespread ‘lockdown’ in any Australian cities. In the most severely impacted urban centres elsewhere in the world, such as in Italy, Spain and France, enforced social isolation is in effect, preventing people from leaving their homes except for in an emergency. He also affirmed that domestic tourism and interstate travel was "low risk", although international travel should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.