'Stage three' lockdown is coming soon
National cabinet will meet again tonight to discuss near-total 'stage three' lockdown measures to contain the spread of coronavirus, even as the economic disaster from stage one and two unfolds.
Although nothing has been confirmed by federal or state governments yet, it is being speculated that supermarket, pharmacies and petrol stations will be open in 'stage three'.
Australia is likely to follow a similar route to the UK, where Prime Minister Boris Johnson expanded the shutdown to include all "non-essential" shops - that includes hairdressers, bookstores, clothing and electronics retailers.
Still exempted under the UK ban are food retailers, pharmacies, hardware stores, corner shops, petrol stations, post offices, banks, newsagents, laundromats and pet shops.
Draconian 'stage two' lockdown measures will shut another enormous swath of businesses from midnight. Experts fear up to two million Australians could lose their jobs in the worst downturn since the Great Depression.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says the lines outside Centrelink are "heartbreaking" but "what we don't want is queues for people who need a machine to help them breathe", adding "no dinner party, no shopping trip is worth a life".
More than 2300 cases of COVID-19 have now been confirmed across Australia, with 1029 in New South Wales, 466 in Victoria, 397 in Queensland, 175 in Western Australia, 170 in South Australia, 39 in the Australian Capital Territory, 36 in Tasmania and six in the Northern Territory.
Eight people have died, with seven deaths in NSW and one in WA.
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has this morning provided an update on the coronavirus crisis.
Mr Morrison is forming a COVID-19 Coordination Commission. It will be headed by former Fortescue boss Neville Power.
Its goal will be to handle the economic crisis, just as the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee addresses the health crisis.
"It's job, put simply, is to solve problems, problems that require the private sector working with the private sector, CEOs talking to CEOs, solving problems in the national interest," Mr Morrison said.
"Re-purposing manufacturing lines, re-tasking workforces who were one day taking calls for travel companies another day taking calls at Centrelink. There will be many other problems we need to solve."
Mr Morrison said from middinght tonight, all elective surgery other than category one and urgent category two cases will be suspended. This will apply in both public and private hospital system.
"Cancellation of elective surgery will allow the preservation of resources including personal protective equipement and will allow health services private and public to prepare for their role in the COVID-19 outbreak."
Mr Morrison has also warned even tougher measures could soon be in place in NSW and Victoria, echoing comments by state leaders this morning.
The Prime Minister says the preference of all states and territories is to "ensure as much consistency as possible", "but the issue of hitting higher thresholds and other measures is a matter that is being discussed by the national cabinet".
"But be assured that if additional measures are required for different parts of the country, there would be no resistance to that occurring," Mr Morrison said.
"It would be hard for some Australians to get their heads around is why a particular measure might be introduced in Melbourne, but not in Adelaide, and that could cause some confusion for people living in Adelaide. It could also mean that if some states were to go ahead and other states were forced to follow, then that could cause needless economic loss in those states as well. See, we're managing two crises here."
The PM stressed that the national cabinet was a voluntary mechanism but that there was a willingness between states and territories to work together.
"But there is also an important discussion about where other states are under more extreme circumstances, measures that may be required there more urgently may be less urgent in other parts of the country," he said.
"I can assure everyone that no measure has been restrained from in any state and territory if they felt that they needed to take those more urgent (steps)."
Mr Morrison said there have been 162,747 tests for COVID-19.
"Test by 100,000 population for Australia is almost five times what it is in the United Kingdom. It is 25 times what is is the United States...and puts Australia right up the top of that leaders board in terms of the amount of testing we're undertaking in Australia," Mr Morrison said.
Originally published as 'Stage three' lockdown is coming soon