SYDNEY • Australia yesterday announced an A$150 million (S$132 million) boost in funding to tackle domestic violence after support services reported a spike in coronavirus-related family abuse.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said there had been a 75 per cent surge in Google searches for help during the ongoing nationwide shutdown of non-essential services to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Women's Safety, a domestic violence charity in Australia's most populous New South Wales state, reported that more than 40 per cent of workers had seen an increase in clients, with over a third of cases directly linked to the virus outbreak.
In neighbouring Victoria, women's support service Wayss said police requests for assistance with cases had almost doubled in the past week, as they dealt with a form of abuse "not experienced before".
"Just having the people in the house, rather than having the pressure release of going to work, or being able to travel freely outside of the house are contributing factors," Wayss chief executive Liz Thomas told public broadcaster ABC. "We've also seen half a dozen examples in the past week where perpetrators have actually used Covid-19 as a form of abuse - telling their partner that they have the virus, therefore they can't leave the house."
Perpetrators have also invited "people into the house where the woman is self-isolating, saying that the visitor has Covid-19 and is going to infect them", Ms Thomas said.
Mr Morrison said the boost - part of an additional A$1.1 billion in health-related spending announced yesterday - would be spent on telephone support services for both domestic violence victims and abusers.
"We need to put more resources into supporting people who will be vulnerable and may be vulnerable," he told reporters in Canberra.
The government is also increasing funding for online mental health services, telephone medical consultations and emergency food relief in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile, Australians were asked yesterday to further isolate themselves from the public to keep the coronavirus from spreading even as the authorities said the rate of daily infections has halved in recent days.
Government officials said that public gatherings must be restricted to two people and Australians should stay inside unless shopping for essentials, exercising, going to work or medical care.
Those over 70 should self-isolate themselves.
"Anyone who doesn't need to be out of their home should be in the home," chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said. "This is radical."
Mr Morrison said it is now up to the states and territories to determine how the two-people gathering limit will be enforced and whether breaching it would carry fines, which has been the case with previous gathering rules in most states.
There were 3,978 confirmed cases in Australia as of late yesterday, an increase of 331 over a 24-hour period, according to the health ministry. Sixteen deaths were attributable to the virus.
Two-thirds of the cases have been traced to contacts with people returning from overseas, but community transmissions have been rising, especially in the most populous New South Wales and Victoria states, where more than half of Australia's 25.5 million people live.
Health officials said that social-distancing measures have helped to slow the spread.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS