Australians wake to strict new laws

Australians woke this morning to strict new regulations that effectively prevent them from attending weddings, funerals and family barbecues – among other rules that will come into effect at midnight Wednesday.

Workers have been urged to do so from home. Children’s parties and dinner parties are to be cancelled.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says even visits with family “should be kept to a minimum and with very small numbers of guests”.

“We don’t want to be overly specific about that; we want Australians to exercise their common sense,” he said.

“Going out for the basics, going out for exercise, perhaps with your partner or family members provided it’s a small group – that’s fine.

“Barbecues of lots of friends or even extended family coming together to celebrate one-year-old birthday parties and all these sorts of things – we can’t do those things now.

“If you’re gathering together in a group, say 10 people, outside together in a group, that’s not okay.”

Under the new rules, weddings can continue but can only be attended by five people – the couple, a celebrant and two witnesses. Funerals can also only have a maximum of 10 mourners.

The PM said that the states were considering making it a criminal offence to host a house party.

“You should only go outside your home to go to those essential things I talked about, not to go and congregate in groups,” he said.

“If we do all these things then we are going to be able to put greater pressure on slowing the rate of the spread of this virus.”

Australians will also be banned from travelling overseas, with the “do not travel” warning issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade turning into a total ban as of Wednesday.

From midnight Wednesday, a slew of activities and businesses will no longer be allowed to continue, including:

  • community and recreation centres, health clubs, fitness centres, yoga, barre, spin facilities, saunas, wellness centres
  • amusement parks and arcades
  • indoor and outdoor play centres
  • public swimming pools
  • galleries, museums, national institutions, historic sites, libraries, community centres
  • auction houses
  • real estate auctions and open house inspections
  • in-store beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons and tattoo parlours, spa and massage parlours (excluding allied-health-related services)
  • food courts within shopping centres will only be able to sell takeaway, but shopping centres themselves will remain open.

Hairdressers and barber shops can stay open, but a customer must not be on the premises longer than 30 minutes. Personal training sessions and boot camps are limited to 10 people. And operation of outdoor and indoor food markets will be addressed by the states and territories.

The new laws come as the number of coronavirus cases in Australia doubled in the past three days. 

A total lockdown of all non-essential services is being considered as of Sunday, says Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy.

“But the idea that you can put measures in place for four weeks and suddenly stop them and the virus will be gone is not credible,” he said. 

“So, we are very keen to put as restrictive measures in place without completely destroying life as we know it. 

“Make no mistake, if there is widespread community transmission, we may have to introduce some harder measures.”

Mr Morrison, who acknowledged the new rules “will be very difficult” said the new measures reflected the gravity of the issue faced by Australians to limit the spread of COVID-19 and its potential to wreak havoc on the health system. 

“This is not an easy decision,” he said. 

“Some of the events that have been some of the major transmitting events, it has been exactly these types of events, particularly weddings.

“And that is why, regretfully, we have to be able to put these arrangements in place.”

Mr Morrison also said every worker in Australia would be considered “essential”.

“Everyone who has a job in this economy is an essential worker. Every single job that is being done in our economy with these severe restrictions that are taking place is essential,” he said.

“It can be essential in a service whether it’s a nurse or a doctor or a schoolteacher, or a public servant who is working tonight to ensure that we can get even greater capacity in our Centrelink offices, working until eight o’clock under the new arrangement in the call centres, these are all essential jobs.

“People stacking shelves, that is essential. People earning money in their family when another member of their family may have lost their job and can no longer earn, that’s an essential job. Jobs are essential.”

He also reiterated that relief would be provided to people who may not be able to pay their rent or if power bills could not be paid on time.

Mr Morrison said 2020 would be the “toughest year” of many people’s lives and one of the most “heart-breaking events” in the nation’s history.

“We are not unconscious of the real impact these measures are having on the lives of daily Australians so we will continue to do everything we can,” he said.

“We know it is a massive change to our lives but if we do it, and we do it consistently, and we do it patiently and understandingly, then we will get through this,” he said.

What do you think of the new changes?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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