That night, in Melbourne, organizers of the Australian Grand Prix were scrambling to keep the event open despite an 11th-hour order from Victoria’s chief health officer that they could run the race but had to turn spectators away. It would be the first major event in Australia to be canceled by the coronavirus. Within 24 hours, almost every other flagship event planned for the next month would follow suit. Spectators queue outside Albert Park in Melbourne for two hours, before the organizers confirm the Australian Grand Prix has been cancelled. Six hours later, Scott Morrison and Australia’s premiers and chief ministers announce that mass gatherings – events with more than 500 participants – should not take place from Monday onward. They also announce the establishment of a national cabinet to respond to the coronavirus crisis. A level three travel warning is placed against the whole world, with Australians told to avoid unnecessary international travel. The announcement is made in the Council of Australian Governments meeting (Coag), held in person in Sydney. It is the last time they are all in one room. The prime minister goes in for a handshake with the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, but is rebuffed. Australian Grand Prix 2020
Saturday is the round-one NRL match between Morrison’s team, the Cronulla Sharks, and the South Sydney Rabbitohs. He tells reporters at the Coag press call at 4 pm that he still intends to go.
By 8pm, Morrison has reneged on his football attendance, saying it might be misinterpreted. The home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, has tested positive to coronavirus, but his cabinet colleagues are not tested. And the Melbourne Comedy Festival, Melbourne Fashion Festival and Sydney Royal Easter Show have been cancelled. National cabinet holds its first meeting on the anniversary of the Christchurch massacre. Australia now has 250 cases.
Quarantine rules are broadened. From midnight, all international arrivals are required to self-isolate for 14 days, unless they are the airline or maritime crew, or transitioning through Australia to the Pacific Islands. The order extends to cruise ship passengers. States and territories will enforce these rules under public health orders.
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Morrison says there is unanimous agreement from states and territories that schools should remain open following the advice of the national cabinet’s health advisory body, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. He says that once a shutdown measure is introduced it is likely to remain in place for six months.
The next morning, Morrison does five media interviews. In four, he is asked why schools remain open. School attendance in NSW has dropped 25%. Victorian school attendance has fallen by up to 50%. A fake text message is circulating warning the country would go into immediate lockdown, and the prime minister bristles when asked about it. “Twitter is not real life … so don’t believe it,” he says.
The national chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, says a two to four-week shutdown called for by many commentators “does not achieve anything” National cabinet meets. Travel advise to the whole world is upgraded to level four: do not travel. Domestic travel is still allowed. Indoor gatherings of more than 100 people are now banned. Schools can remain open, but assemblies are cancelled. Singapore is held up as an example – it has managed the virus effectively while keeping schools open. Anzac Day ceremonies are cancelled.
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Restrictions are placed on visiting aged care facilities. Visits are capped at a maximum of two people per day, with visits to be kept to a short duration. Recently returned travellers, anyone with a respiratory infection, and children under 16 are told to stay away.
In the evening, the Ruby Princess cruise ship arrives in Sydney harbour.
Day 7 – Thursday 19 March
At 6am health officials give the all-clear for the 2,700 passengers aboard the cruise ship Ruby Princess to disembark. About 110 have influenza-like symptoms. Three are swabbed, but the rest are not made to wait for the results. They go home, many boarding domestic flights to other states, carrying the virus with them. Within five weeks at least 662 passengers on the Ruby Princess will have tested positive to Covid-19 and 21 will have died.