Death toll rises to five as COVID-19 cases surge

Health authorities have warned there will be an "exponential increase" in coronavirus cases in the next few weeks after a spike of new cases today.

Since 11am yesterday there have been another 37 cases of Covid-19 diagnosed in NSW, bringing the state-wide total to 171 cases since the outbreak started. Nationally the total stands at 368.

A second round of financial stimulus is being fast-tracked as the coronavirus crisis roils financial markets and batters the economy.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is reportedly locked in emergency meetings with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann hammering out the details.

It comes only days after the government unveiled a $17.6 billion package, including individual cash payments of $750 to around 6.5 million Australians.

Victoria has declared a state of emergency after 14 new virus cases were confirmed overnight, bringing the national tally to 350 as the death toll rises to five.

Mr Morrison is facing growing pressure to close schools and universities after announcing new measures to slow the spread of the disease on Sunday, including mandatory 14-day self isolation for all international travellers entering the country.

People who breach the new rules face fines of up to $13,000 and jail time.

Non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people have been banned but Mr Morrison said shutting schools would do more harm than good.

There are now 368 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across Australia.

Of those, 171 are in NSW, 71 in Victoria, 68 in Queensland, 20 in SA, 28 in WA, seven in Tasmania, one in the NT and two in the ACT.

Six people have died - one in WA, three in NSW and two in Queensland.

Follow our live, rolling coverage of the coronavirus pandemic below.

Australians are facing unprecedented disruption to their daily lives as the coronavirus death toll increases to five and cases reach 300.

Working from home could become the new norm for millions of "social distancing" Aussies in coming weeks. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is facing growing pressure to close schools and universities after announcing new measures to slow the spread of the disease on Sunday, including mandatory 14-day self isolation for all international travellers entering the country.

Non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people have been banned but Mr Morrison said shutting schools would do more harm than good.

There are now around 300 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across Australia.

Of those, 134 are in NSW, 57 in Victoria, 61 in Queensland, 20 in SA, 17 in WA, seven in Tasmania, one in the NT and one in the ACT.

Five people have died - one in WA, three in NSW and one in Queensland.

PM 'a bit croaky' on Sunrise

Frank Chung

Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists he's "feeling fine" after Today host David Koch noted he was "sounding a bit croaky" this morning.

"A lot of meetings but I can tell you I am feeling fine," Mr Morrison said. "There is a lot of work to do, and everyone is working well together."

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton on Friday announced he had tested positive for coronavirus and was going into isolation.

Mr Dutton had attended a cabinet meeting with Mr Morrison and a number of key ministers in Sydney on Tuesday but the PM's office said they would not need to self-isolate.

Speaking on Today, Mr Morrison was asked how the government would enforce the 14-day isolation rules for people entering the country.

He said self-isolation had been voluntary until now and "Australians have been following the rules, and now they will be backed up by the force of state and territory laws".

  28m agoMarch 16, 2020HIGHLIGHT

Isolate or face $13,000 fine

Frank Chung

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has warned of the heavy financial penalty that awaits any person who arrives from overseas and does not self-isolate.

From midnight all people coming to Australia will have to self-isolate for 14 days, while cruise ships will be banned from arriving at Australian ports for an initial 30 days.

Ms Palaszczuk said on Sunday that laws were in place to deal with those who fail to follow a direction to self-isolate.

"In relation to legislation around that … it's under our Public Health Emergency Act," she said.

"That bill was passed in early February and there are penalties for not complying with the notification and that is around $13,000," she said. "We have random police checks to make sure people are compliant with that notice."



The warning came as Queensland had its biggest single-day jump in coronavirus cases, taking the number of people detected with the COVID-19 to 61.

There were 15 people confirmed on Sunday as having contracted the virus.

People were also being discouraged from kissing, hugging or even shaking hands.

"We are asking Queenslanders, when you are out and about no hand shaking … and no kissing or hugging in public. Let's all minimise the risk," the premier said.

Queensland's chief health officer warned that now may not be the time for children to visit their grandparents.

"I implore people if you have parents … or grandparents in that older age group think about how you can help them. Maybe it's not the time for your young kids to see their grandparents," she said.

Meanwhile Queensland senator Susan McDonald has announced several Senate committee hearings scheduled for Brisbane, Townsville and Cairns this week have been cancelled until further notice.

The hearings were scheduled for the Regional and Rural Affairs and Transport Committee from Monday through to Thursday.

- Darren Cartwright, AAP

  44m agoMarch 16, 2020HIGHLIGHT

Melbourne attractions shut

Frank Chung

Victoria's museums and art galleries will be closed indefinitely in an effort to contain the coronavirus and protect those most at risk.

The Arts Centre Melbourne, Geelong Arts Centre, Melbourne Recital Centre, Museums Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria and State Library of Victoria will all be closed from Monday.

"It is my deep belief that the gallery is a place for everyone and when we reopen we will ensure that the gallery continues to be a welcoming and inspiring place for the community," NGV director Tony Ellwood said in a statement on Sunday night.

"In the meantime, we will do our best to offer the community access to the State NGV Collection virtually, much of which is available online, where our audiences can still benefit from one of the world's best collections of art and design."



Mr Ellwood said both NGV International and NGV Australia will reopen on April 13.

Museums Victoria earlier made the decision to temporarily close all its public sites, including Melbourne Museum, Scienceworks, Immigration Museum and the Royal Exhibition Building, effective immediately.

Chief executive Lynley Crosswell said the safety and wellbeing of the community, staff, visitors and volunteers was the organisation's top priority.

"We are taking these steps as a public health precaution in support of measures to contain novel coronavirus, especially for those in our community who are most vulnerable," she said in a statement posted online on Sunday.

"We are committed to providing support for our employees and volunteers and to protecting our community during these unprecedented and challenging times."

- Benita Kolovos, AAP

  1h agoMarch 16, 2020HIGHLIGHT

Woolies' new shopping hour

Frank Chung

Woolworths is introducing a new dedicated shopping hour for vulnerable customers in response to the coronavirus panic.

The move comes after heartbreaking photos went viral on social media showing elderly shoppers left staring at shelves stripped bare of toilet paper and other staples.

From tomorrow until at least Friday, Woolworths supermarkets will be open exclusively to the elderly and people with disability between 7am and 8am.

Access to the store during this time will require a relevant government-issued concession card.



"While we'll continue to do our very best to restock our stores during this period of unprecedented demand, we know many of our elderly customers have been missing out on essential items when they shop," Woolworths Supermarkets managing director Claire Peters said.

"This temporary measure will give them, and those with a disability, the opportunity to shop before ​our stores officially open - helping them obtain the ​essential ​items they need most in a less crowded environment."

Ms Peters urged Australians to be mindful of "those in our communities who might need extra help at this time". "Now more than ever we need to be kind to each other, especially to those most vulnerable," she said.

"We'd like to thank our customers for their patience and apologise for any inconvenience caused by the revised opening hours."

Last week, Woolworths announced it was working with Meals on Wheels in NSW to help deliver toilet paper directly to the community.

  1h agoMarch 16, 2020HIGHLIGHT

Virus cases near 300

Frank Chung

Tasmania has just confirmed its seventh case.

The Mercury reports the latest case is a woman in her 50s and is a close contact of a previous Tasmanian case who had recently travelled overseas.

That brings the national total to 298.

  1h agoMarch 16, 2020HIGHLIGHT

'Sensible' to have extra staples

Frank Chung

Victorian authorities are recommending the public have a two-week stockpile of food - but no more - in preparation for a major coronavirus outbreak in the state.

As the number of Victorian's diagnosed with COVID-19 rose to 57 on Sunday, Premier Daniel Andrews said it would be "sensible" to have extra staples on hand as the number of cases of COVID-19 rises.

But he warned against panic buying as it would impact those "most at risk of being quite seriously ill".

"It is sensible to try and have some of those (staples) on hand, more than you would normally have," Mr Andrews told reporters on Sunday.

"But if everybody goes out and buys not two weeks worth of staples but two months worth, the shelves will be empty and the only people who suffer then are vulnerable people who might not have got to the shops, or can't go to four different supermarkets and get the basics that they need."

Mr Andrews said the state government had been creating care packages for individuals and families in isolation.

"We're all in this together and if we all use common sense we'll get through this together," he said.

The state's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton on Saturday advised people to consider having a fortnight's worth of non-perishables in their pantries as well as a 60-day supply of prescription medication.

"That does not mean stockpiling - but planning sensibly as you shop," he wrote in the Herald Sun.

Supermarkets Coles and Woolworths, meanwhile, have imposed purchasing limits on staples such as rice, flour, pasta, toilet paper, tissues and hand sanitiser to two units per customer.

- Benita Kolovos, AAP