Australia considers tougher movement restrictions to combat coronavirus

A woman wears a face mask in Melbourne on March 17, 2020.
A woman wears a face mask in Melbourne on March 17, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia's leaders will meet on Tuesday (March 17) to discuss tighter restrictions on the movement of the country's citizens, following signs the coronavirus is spreading more quickly.

The newly formed national Cabinet, which includes state and territory leaders and chief medical officers as well as Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government, will discuss the next steps via video link.

Several state leaders are pushing for a ban on social gatherings to extend to anything with more than 100 people, an order that would be much tighter than the 500 person maximum announced by the government on Monday.

Australia on Monday told anyone arriving in Australia from overseas to self-isolate for 14 days. Other countries, including Canada and Germany, have since imposed stricter border controls.

Australia has reported 300 infections and five deaths from the coronavirus but the authorities fear a rapid rise in cases in the coming weeks. New South Wales, the country's most populous state, on Monday recorded its highest one-day rise in the number of cases.

The national Cabinet, dubbed the "war Cabinet" by Mr Morrison, will meet as the federal government considers increasing the value of its proposed A$17.6 billion (S$15.3 billion) planned stimulus package.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann warned the expected global downturn would be felt hardest by the poorest Australians.

"Those Australians who are likely to lose their job over the coming weeks and perhaps months will need appropriate levels of support so that we can come back stronger and better on the other side," Mr Cormman told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Tuesday.

Local media reported the stimulus package will provide aid to the country's tourism sector, an industry that accounts for more than 3 per cent of Australia's A$1.95 trillion economy. The global travel restrictions are expected to put a major dent in the average nine million foreigners who visit the country annually.

Qantas Airways said on Tuesday that it would cut its international capacity by around 90 per cent until at least the end of May.