Coronavirus updates: 'It's a free country': Woman fined


A woman has been fined for telling police "it's a free country" when asked why she was outside during an Easter blitz that netted dozens breaching the coronavirus lockdown rules.

It comes as Christians around the country today remember the resurrection of Jesus sitting in front of a screen at home instead of at a bustling church service, with one priest describing "deep grief" at the social distancing measures.

There are more than 6300 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia, with 2857 in New South Wales, 1265 in Victoria, 974 in Queensland, 429 in South Australia, 514 in Western Australia, 133 in Tasmania, 103 in the Australian Capital Territory and 28 in the Northern Territory.

The death toll now stands at 57.

Follow our live rolling coverage below.

Originally published as 'It's a free country': Woman fined

Border controls to be long-term

Frank Chung

Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy says "there is no place in the world I would rather be than Australia at the moment".

But Prof Murphy again stresses that "we cannot become complacent". "We are in a good place, but we have to maintain that good place," he told reporters in Canberra.

Prof Murphy said national cabinet was looking at examples from overseas where restrictions had been eased only for authorities to have to reimpose them.

"Obviously the National Cabinet wants advice from the health committee about things that would need to be in place - the measures, the surveillance, the tracking we would need to have to enable them to reach a decision on potentially removing some of those restrictions," he said.

"But there is a huge risk in doing so and we have certainly said that it is not the right time now. We want to spend the next weeks looking at the framework with the national cabinet and helping them to make a decision."

He added, "There is no right answer. No country has the right answer. We are in a stronger position is anyone to plan a cautious way forward but at the moment the most important thing is to keep our control."

Prof Murphy said border controls would be "another huge issue" for national cabinet to consider. "At the moment, the biggest risk to Australia is still returning travellers," he said.

"Two-thirds of our cases in Australia are returned travellers or tourists, mostly our own citizens coming back. In fact, it is likely the new cases we will see over the next week will be returned travellers. We have had a charter flight coming in this morning from a cruise ship with lots of positive people."

Until there is a vaccine and while the pandemic was in many other countries, Prof Murphy predicted "we're going to need some form of border measures".

'Binge on study, not Netflix'

Frank Chung

Education Minister Dan Tehan is speaking in Canberra now.

He's discussing the government's higher education relief package, which includes the slashing of university and TAFE course fees.

"To enable people, rather than bingeing on Netflix, to binge on studying, binge on looking at a nursing degree, an allied health degree," he said.

"Areas where we need people, and we are going to need people as we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. We also want our universities to seize this opportunity, and it is an opportunity for them to become world leaders in short courses, world leaders in what is called micro-credentialling."

'Can't give an end date'

Frank Chung

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has apologised for the draconian coronavirus restrictions but says the experience of cities like New York show why they can't be lifted any time soon.

"I know it is deeply inconvenient. It is very frustrating that we cannot give people an end date," he told reporters this morning.

"People are giving up a lot, they are doing a lot for each other, and I am very, very grateful to every single Victorian who is doing the right thing. That is the vast majority and that is why we are seeing such positive, albeit fragile numbers."

Mr Andrews noted "these things can change very quickly".

"I would caution against any complacency or any sense that we will be able to change our policy settings and wind back some of the restrictions we have put in place any time soon," he said.

"This needs to be for the long haul otherwise this virus will simply get away from us. There are many, many world leaders, many people in different parts of the world, in jobs similar to mine, who would love to be in the position that Victoria is in."

The death toll of 14 was tragic "but compared to the situation in so many other parts of the world, our strategy is working".

"To give you a sense, 1268 is the death rate in New York for two days," Mr Andrews said.

"If people need reminding, or any sense that this can get really bad, really quickly, what is happening in New York and other parts of Europe and other parts of the world should give us all a really clear sense that we have to stay the course and we have to keep the settings in place."

Three new cases in Victoria

Frank Chung

There have been just three new confirmed coronavirus cases in Victoria overnight, bringing the state to 1268.

"That is very strong evidence our strategy is working," Premier Daniel Andrews said.

Twenty-eight patients are in hospital and a further 16 are in intensive care.

"We are making sure that this virus doesn't get away from us, because if it does, then our health system will simply be overrun and people will die," he said.

Victoria extends emergency

Frank Chung

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is speaking now.

He has announced he is extending the state of emergency for a further four weeks until May 11.

It will now expire at midnight on May 11 "and may well continue beyond that", Mr Andrews said.

"That will be based on circumstances, once we get closer to that second four-week period. This is unprecedented. But these (powers) are designed to deal with challenges we face, even though none of us in our lifetime have ever had to deal with this sort of crisis."

Man dies in quarantine hotel

Frank Chung

A man has died while being quarantined in a Melbourne hotel, while a plane carrying more than 100 stranded cruise ship passengers infected with COVID-19 has landed in the city.

"Police are not treating the death as suspicious at this time," a health department spokesperson confirmed on Sunday.

"The coroner will be investigating the incident and as such we are unable to comment further."

It is unknown if the person had tested positive for coronavirus.

"Police will prepare a report for the coroner after a male was located deceased in a hotel at South Wharf last night," Victoria Police said in a statement.

"The death is not being treated as suspicious."

It comes a flight from Uruguay touched down at Tullamarine just before 7am on Sunday, carrying about 112 passengers from the Greg Mortimer cruise ship.

Vision from the airport shows crews in hazmat suits boarding the plane, while a handful of passengers wearing masks are also seen disembarking then walking towards a smaller aircraft.

It is believed that plane is bound for New Zealand.

The ship's operator Aurora Expeditions confirmed this week 128 of 217 people on board the Greg Mortimer, nearly 60 per cent, had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Uruguay's Foreign Minister Ernesto Talvi said two Australian passengers could not be transported home as they were in intensive care at a hospital.

The ship had been stranded in the South American nation for more than two weeks, after leaving Argentina on March 15 for a 16-day return trip to Antarctica.

Victoria's deputy chief health officer Annaliese van Diemen told reporters on Saturday the flight would be met by medical staff and ambulances.

"Everybody who needs to go to hospital will go to hospital and the remaining passengers will go into quarantine in hotels," Dr van Diemen said.

Any passenger displaying coronavirus symptoms would be taken to hospital, whether or not they have tested positive for the virus, she added.

The group are among 1200 Australian nationals being flown home from overseas to land at Tullamarine this weekend, with flights from India and Peru touching down on Friday and Saturday.

All incoming passengers will be shuttled off to hotels to start 14-days of quarantine.

Meanwhile, the first group of quarantined travellers were released on Sunday morning after their mandatory two-week quarantine ended.

Victoria's total recorded COVID-19 cases stands at 1265, with 14 deaths. The number of new cases on Saturday rose by 24, compared to a rise of 13 the day before.

Of those infected authorities say 118 may have been cases of community transmission.

Chief health officer Brett Sutton called on people not to look for loopholes in physical distancing laws and not leave the house unless for an essential outing.

While most people have heeded Dr Sutton's advice to have a quiet Easter, many have been fined for hosting gatherings at their homes.

Australia's national death toll from the virus stands at 57.

- Benita Kolovos, AAP

'As long as it takes'

Frank Chung

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg says the Australian people "are prepared for restrictions for as long as it takes" to fight coronavirus.

Appearing on the ABC's Insiders this morning, Mr Frydenberg was repeatedly asked whether he thought the economy could survive six months of drastic measures that have already sent hundreds of thousands of people to the dole queue.

"I think the Australian people are prepared for restrictions for as long as it takes, to be honest, because we have got to take the medical advice. It served us well," he said.

"We have flattened that curve. Just a few weeks ago we were seeing an exponential rise in the number of cases, more than 20 per cent per day. We have now got that to below 2 per cent. We have to consolidate the gains."

Mr Frydenberg pointed to Japan, Singapore and Sweden, which all thought they had gotten on top of the virus but were now experiencing a second wave of cases.

"If you look at Sweden, they allowed large gatherings," he said. "They now have the military setting up hospitals in the middle of Stockholm and they have had 650 deaths."

Pressed on when lockdowns would end, the Treasurer repeated that "we have to take the medical advice". "It is very dangerous - and unrealistic - to move ahead of the medical advice," he said.

"It has served Australia well. As the Prime Minister has said, patience is a virtue. Complacency is a problem. Everyone needs to understand that this is a very fluid and difficult situation."

Asked again whether the economy could survive, Mr Frydenberg said he was talking to business leaders and "they fully understand that the restrictions are based on the health advice and the health advice needs to be followed".

"Again, I don't have a crystal ball," he said. "The Prime Minister prepared the nation for six months at least. We are having a degree of success in flattening out that curve. But it is dangerous to move ahead of the medical advice, and that is where we will go."

Brace for grim jobs figures

Frank Chung

The unemployment rate could rise to its highest level in four years when labour force figures are released this week, marking the initial impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the economy.

Financial market economists forecasts centre on an unemployment rate of 5.4 per cent when the March jobs data is released on Thursday, compared with 5.1 per cent in February.

Predictions range as high as 5.9 per cent, a level not seen since early 2016.

However, they expect the rate could almost double towards 10 per cent by the middle of year as the economy sinks into a deep recession, the first in nearly 30 years.

While the government has put back the timing of the May budget until October, saying it is impossible to put forward a revised set of economic forecasts at this stage, that hasn't stopped predictions from economists.

For example, Westpac economists are predicting three consecutive negative quarters of economic activity - 0.7 per cent in the March quarter, a massive 8.5 per cent in the June quarter and 0.6 per cent in the September quarter.

Even though they expect the December quarter will show a huge 5.2 per cent rebound as restrictions are eased and businesses reopen, it would still leave growth five per cent lower over the year.

As such, Labor is warning the Morrison government against withdrawing the billions of dollars of stimulus it has pumped into the economy too soon, for fear of prolonging the downturn.

- Colin Brinsden, AAP

'Worst is yet to come'

Frank Chung

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has cautioned that the "worst is yet to come" despite the number of new coronavirus infections continuing to slow.

"We have to stay vigilant," she told Seven's Sunrise this morning.

"We're doing incredibly well but we can't pretend it's over. It won't be over until there is a vaccine - (the question) really is how do we live with it until there is a vaccine."

Ms Berejiklian said the medical experts were advising that this round of the virus was not yet at its peak.

"A lot is being said about the curve, we are still at the beginning," she said. "The virus has hit worse in the winter months in other countries. Winter hasn't happened yet here."

Ms Berejiklian said she was still concerned about community transmission. "Thousands of people are dying every day around the world, we know we've done the right thing here," she said.

"This disease is incredibly dangerous, for certain people it can be extremely lethal and it very easily gets out of control. I don't want people to relax, thinking we've done the right thing and we can do what we like now. We still have to be vigilant and keep to the rules to make sure it doesn't get out of control."

Asked about the uncertainty around when lockdowns will end, and whether they could instead become even more restrictive, Ms Berejiklian said she was "hoping we won't have to go tougher".

"If there is a sudden explosion of cases then of course you would have to go harder," she said. "We also have to consider when and if we can release some of the restrictions to allow some people to have normality. For some families and individuals it is really tough."

Ms Berejiklian said while some families were finding "innovative ways to do things", that was OK for two or three weeks "but what does it feel like after a couple of months?"

"We have to think of mental health issue," she said.

"Because we are doing well we can take advice from the experts of what might be tweaked moving forward. I'm a very optimistic person but I like to speak the truth and give people direct advice because we are all in this together, we all need up-to-date information, and I can't pretend that this will be over soon."

It comes after NSW chief medical officer Dr Kerry Chant told Nine Newspapers that "baseline" restrictions such as 1.5 metre social distancing would remain in place for at least 12 months, or until a vaccine was ready.

She suggested lockdowns could be eased in a "zig zag" fashion, easing restrictions in some areas or tightening them again if cases spiked.

"We're engaging with the modellers, we're looking at what we can do and then we're going to have to chart a course," Dr Chant said.

"That course is not going to be a straight-line course. At every point in time, our decisions may zig and zag. But that's not because we're not being thoughtful or we're confused. It's because we're having to incorporate new learnings or new information in our response all the time."

Death toll rises to 57

Frank Chung

The coronavirus death toll has risen to 57.

A 74-year-old Ruby Princess passenger from South Australia died at Royal Adelaide Hospital last night, SA Health has announced.

He is the state's fourth death.

At least 15 passengers who contracted COVID-19 on board the stricken cruise ship have now died.

$1 million virus fines issued

Frank Chung

A Sydney woman who told police "it's a free country" and a man visiting people across NSW are among the latest hit with $1000 fines for breaching COVID-19 restrictions.

The 32-year-old woman, who was officially warned on Thursday after leaving home without excuse, was found in the middle of Belvoir Street in Surry Hills on Friday Asked why she was out, police on Saturday said she replied, "It's a free country," and offered no valid reason.

She was among 50 people ticketed by NSW Police in the past two days, taking to 295 the total number of people fined since March 17.

Ten people were also charged with breaching public health laws on Friday, making for 38 since March 17.

Police on Friday also fined a teenager walking down a South Grafton street with a case of beer and a 30-year-old who was told three times to go home after he walked into Albury police station to "hang out".

A Victorian man towing a trail bike on a trailer told police on Friday he had visited friends in Wollongong and was on his way to see family in Deniliquin.

The 27-year-old was hit with a $1000 fine for non-essential travel.

A 20-year-old woman stopped in Port Macquarie gave police her twin sister's details before police dropped her home with a warning.

She refused to go inside, walked off, gave police the finger and was promptly handed a $1000 fine.

More than $1 million on-the-spot fines have been issued in Australia for breaches of COVID-19 restrictions, including a whopping $610,000 in Queensland and more than $160,000 in Victoria.

- Luke Costin, AAP

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