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Coronavirus updates LIVE: Scott Morrison says Australia’s social distancing restrictions could be lifted in four weeks, global COVID-19 cases surpass 2 million worldwide

Washington: Hundreds of people have taken to the streets in multiple US states to protests stay-a-home orders meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Many protesters were angry about the economic ramifications the restrictions are causing. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg estimate the US Labour Department will report Thursday, Friday AEST, that 5.5 million Americans filed initial applications for unemployment insurance last week.

The protests are occurring as President Donald Trump and governors debate when states should loosen the restrictions put in place to ensure people practise social distancing.

Trump, speaking at the White House task force press conference, said recommendations about opening the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic would be released on Thursday after a conference call with all 50 governors.

In Michigan, demonstrators drove thousands of vehicles — many draped with protest signs — to the state Capitol on Wednesday, loudly protesting Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s lockdown measures.

As snow fell, some got out of their vehicles in the city of Lansing and raised signs, one of which read, “Gov Whitmer we are not prisoners”.

The “Operation Gridlock” protest was organised by the Michigan Conservative Coalition.

“This arbitrary blanket spread of shutting down businesses, about putting all of these workers out of business, is just a disaster. It’s an economic disaster for Michigan,” coalition member Meshawn Maddock said. “And people are sick and tired of it.”

USA Today, AP

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Social distancing is holding new COVID-19 infection levels low enough to eliminate the virus from mainland Australia, new federal government modelling shows.

While the expert team behind the modelling has not estimated a date by which the virus could be defeated, they project it could be months away, rather than weeks.

Yet loosening social distancing restrictions will inevitably lead to it returning and cases rising, researchers say, which means we would need to maintain such measures to keep the virus at bay, rather than return to life as normal.

The model suggests that every 10 people infected currently spread the virus to five more people, on average.

At that level, the virus would eventually be unable to circulate and would die out within Australia.

“Our epidemic is in decline,” said Professor Jodie McVernon, director of Doherty Epidemiology, which led the team that built the model for the federal government.

“But it does not let us be complacent. If we were to release those measures now … those 10 cases today would produce 25 new cases over the course of their infection, not five.”

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The Victorian government is preparing to borrow up to $24.5 billion in emergency funding as it braces for the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Leading economists expect the massive debt may take a generation to repay.

The Andrews government wants to set aside $10 billion for the current 2019-20 financial year and $14.5 billion for 2020-21 to deal with the pandemic and the economy’s recovery.

However, it will need the support of the opposition or enough crossbenchers to pass the legislation required to borrow the huge sums.

Treasurer Tim Pallas said the government was setting up a “facility” worth $24.5 billion but would not necessarily draw down on that entire sum, although he conceded that was likely.

He said the economic impact would be “traumatic” for Victorians and their livelihoods and warned that the economic recovery would take a long time.

“Anybody who thinks that this will be a V-shaped recovery I think is being unreasonably optimistic,” he said.

Mr Pallas said the government had begun briefing the opposition and crossbenchers about the financial bills it planned to introduce during a one-day emergency sitting of State Parliament next week.

Victoria’s debt was already set to exceed $54 billion by 2022-23 before Thursday’s announcement.

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Tough coronavirus restrictions will remain in place for at least the next four weeks as the government works to improve testing, tracing and response times.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia had made real progress over the past month in getting the virus under control but these three measures had to be in place before “baseline” restrictions could be reviewed and potentially changed.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced coronavirus restrictions should stay in place for at least another four weeks.

“A positive thing to say is we have often found ourselves, as we have now, in a better place ahead of
time, and if we are able to achieve that well and good but we want to be very clear with Australians, baseline restrictions we have in place at the moment – there are no plans to change those for the next four weeks,” he said after a meeting of the national cabinet on Thursday.

“I think social distancing, the washing of the hands … that is what we should do until we find a vaccine.

“Those sorts of things … we will live with this for the foreseeable future, but when it comes to the specific economic restrictions that have been put in place, after the next month then there will be the opportunity to review that and potentially make some changes.”

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London: The days had a grim rhythm before I got sick. As coronavirus tightened its grip on Europe, Spain’s latest death toll would come in mid-morning, France and the United Kingdom would follow mid-afternoon and Italy at 5pm. Thousands would be dead by the time I filed my story before dinner.

It’s strangely easy to become desensitised to death on an industrial scale, and I fear that is happening to some degree in Australia as well as here in the UK. Distracted by Boris Johnson’s brush with mortality, Britain seems to have not fully come to grips with the scale of the unfolding disaster. More than 13,000 have now died, although the true figure is much higher because thousands of deaths in the community aren’t included in the tally. The epidemic in the UK is tracking disturbingly close to Italy, whose plight once shocked the world.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been released from hospital, thanking two nurses in particular who stood by his side while also thanking his nation for social distancing even as the death toll there rocketed past 10,000.

I’ve been covering the pandemic since the first stages of the deadly outbreak around Milan and Venice in late February. It was obvious I could catch it. But as a healthy 34-year-old with no underlying heath conditions, I wasn’t overly worried about falling ill. I saw the virus as a big story to cover, not a threat to my health.

Then, about two weeks ago, I woke up with a sore throat and felt lethargic. I sent my editor a message on Wednesday April 1 asking for a couple of quiet days to shake off what I assumed was exhaustion. But things spiralled and the symptoms of COVID-19 developed rapidly.

By Saturday, my sense of taste and smell disappeared and my body felt like it had been pummelled by baseball bats.

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As a national royal commission into the summer of bushfires begins, people who live in the fire zones say the fight against the coronavirus pandemic has shifted governments’ attention away from relief efforts.

Some say that months after the fires swept through they have given up hope of receiving relief with payments delayed and dealing with government agencies “slow and confusing”.

A fire in the Alpine region last summer, when bushfires ravaged the east of the state.

A fire in the Alpine region last summer, when bushfires ravaged the east of the state.Credit:Eddie Jim

Former defence force chief Mark Binskin opened the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements in an online hearing in Canberra on Thursday.

The inquiry, launched by the federal government, will investigate the devastating blazes that killed 33 people and destroyed more than 3000 homes across Australia.

Victoria’s Inspector-General for Emergency Management has already begun a review of the state’s handling of the bushfires that ravaged the east of the state, where about 1.2 million hectares were burnt.

The federal and state inquiries will look into the disaster response efforts of fire agencies and examine governments’ preparedness for increasingly intense bushfire seasons.

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A call from senior NSW Nationals for Commonwealth-owned environment water to be redirected to farmers is set to sink almost as quickly as it was floated with Victoria and South Australia opposing the move, and experts declaring it illegal.

Irrigators in NSW’s Murray and Murrumbidgee regions who own the least reliable class of water entitlements, General Security, are facing their third year without a drink due to severe drought.

Irrigators in southern NSW have experienced three years in a row of zero or very low water allocations.

Irrigators in southern NSW have experienced three years in a row of zero or very low water allocations. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said this week Commonwealth water must be used for food production, arguing the Basin Plan was “flawed” and favoured the environment “at the expense of the community and irrigators”.

The Commonwealth has built up a portfolio of environment water entitlements since 2013 under the Murray Darling basin plan, which is an environmental reform to buy water from irrigators to benefit fish, birds and wetlands.

NSW Water Minister Melinda Pavey backs Mr Barilaro’s call and said farmers should be able to access environmental entitlements to ensure “domestic food supply chains remain viable” amid disruption from coronavirus.

“The water held by the Commonwealth could be used to underwrite an opening allocation for NSW Murray and Murrumbidgee General Security Entitlement holders,” Ms Pavey said.

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World Rugby will loan Rugby Australia up to an estimated $16 million to get through the coronavirus shutdown, but only after the organisation has thrashed out an emergency pay deal with the players union.

Details of the loan program are expected to be announced in Dublin later on Thursday night, but sources told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald the global governing body had secured a credit facility worth somewhere in the vicinity of $160 million.

World Rugby's loan program is expected to buy Rugby Australia some much-needed time to ride out the coronavirus shutdown.

World Rugby’s loan program is expected to buy Rugby Australia some much-needed time to ride out the coronavirus shutdown. Credit:Getty Images

All tier one and tier two unions will be able to apply for a capped portion of the money, somewhere in the region of $16 million.

It will be granted almost immediately as a low interest, long-term loan.

The catch will be that unions must have their internal cost-saving measures finalised, including administrative costs and player pay cuts.

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Progressive campaigner GetUp has funded pro-Scott Morrison ads with hopes the government will keep temporary coronavirus policies, such as the doubling of unemployment benefits and free childcare.

GetUp National Director Paul Oosting warned that coronavirus had fundamentally changed the organisation’s role in federal politics, and said the activist group was preparing for the defining policy battle of the years to come: shaping the major, inevitable post-crisis reforms.

GetUp national director Paul Oosting says the organisation's aims have fundamentally changed because of coronavirus.

GetUp national director Paul Oosting says the organisation’s aims have fundamentally changed because of coronavirus. Credit:AAP

“It’s really fundamentally changed the work that we do,” Mr Oosting said.

“In the Great Depression, we saw very different responses – from the New Deal in the United States… to the rise of fascism in Europe.

“This could be a real re-imagination of the way we want to operate as a society,” he said.

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As a rehabilitation medicine specialist, I can’t help but observe British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s discharge from hospital to his Chequers country estate as the ultimate home rehabilitation destination.

Not only is there ready access to nature walks, an enclosed heated pool and most likely some beloved Ancient Greek texts to muse upon in the library, there is also the personal chef, supportive partner, cute dog and work colleagues who prefer you to rest at home. With his own personal rehabilitation team, hopefully it’s just a matter of time before Johnson is able to build to the 32-kilometre recovery walks recommended by Ancient Greek physician Herodicus.

This will not be the experience for every patient following COVID-19. While our acute care colleagues are looking at the incoming waves of patients who might die, rehabilitation teams are looking slightly further towards the tsunami of patients who will survive and mostly likely require rehabilitation.

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