SYDNEY - Australian officials say the Easter holidays will be a critical part of efforts to contain the coronavirus. While the curve of new infections continues to flatten, officials have warned against complacency. Much of Australia is in lockdown, and the state of Victoria has extended its state of emergency for another month.
Officials have a grim message: Stay at home. Australians have been told not to attend religious services or congregate with extended family and friends for Easter or Passover this holiday weekend. Traveling for vacations has also been prohibited, and extra police patrols have been deployed to ensure compliance. Many beaches remain closed, as have pubs, cafes and cinemas.
In New South Wales state, senior officers have said that going away for Easter was not a valid reason to leave the house, and fines do apply.
In his Easter message, Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged the community to do the right thing.
“Easter in Australia will be different this year, as it will be all around the world,” he said. “It is still true that we will be able to gather together in our immediate family, but there will not be the opportunity for that extended family gathering, special times I know, as well as going off to church and our religious services. The coronavirus means this Easter will be different and we will be staying at home, and it is important because we cannot undo the tremendous progress we have made together in recent times. So this Easter we are staying at home. Do not travel. Do not go away.”
Freedoms in Australia are restricted as never before as it confronts the pandemic. The federal government has banned Australians from flying overseas. Citizens returning home must go into mandatory quarantine in a hotel for 14 days, often supervised by the military.
Repatriation flights are helping Australians who have been trapped overseas. This weekend groups have returned from India and a cruise liner off South America.
Medical experts say the closure of Australia’s borders, mass testing for COVID-19 and strict physical distancing measures are working. The government has warned, however, it was “very dangerous and unrealistic” to loosen restrictions on movement ahead of medical advice.
The economic impact of COVID-19 continues to hit. There are fears that some universities could collapse as fees from lucrative international student enrollments dry up. In response, officials have guaranteed there will be no funding cuts to Australia’s universities under a financial relief package for higher education.
So far, Australia has more than 6,200 confirmed COVID-19 cases. Fifty-nine people have died with the virus.