I am one of the few lucky people who have work at this indefinite time. Let out of the house. Let with a lower wage, but still there is work. I have a family, a dog and an emergency in Victoria, Melbourne, where I live. Easter is celebrated in Australia on Sunday – this year people celebrate it at home in isolation, church services are conducted online.
Life in a state of emergency
On April 12, Victoria Prime Minister Daniel Andrews announced an extension of the state of emergency for another month, despite a significant reduction in identified positive cases of COVID-19 across the country. According to the Ministry of Health, in our state only three cases have been identified over the past 24 hours (13 in all of Australia), thus, to date, there are 1,268 confirmed cases in Victoria, while in all of Australia there are 6,313. state of new south wales. According to official statistics, in Australia, 59 people died from COVID-19.
Easter morning on the coast
Now in Australia it is mid-autumn, rather cool, + 14C. Nevertheless, there are many citizens in parks and on boardwalks by the sea, despite the state of emergency declared almost a month ago. Many cyclists, runners, families with children play rugby and football, someone practices yoga, someone walks dogs. There are fewer shoppers in grocery stores and pharmacies due to restrictions on the number of people in a public place.
How the virus got to Australia
Australia’s first COVID-19 infection was reported on January 25, 2020. It was a Chinese citizen who returned from Wuhan on January 19. Then every day, positive tests for coronavirus began to be confirmed. On January 31, the Australian government announced that foreign nationals returning from China should be quarantined for two weeks before entering Australia. A little later, these restrictions were introduced for everyone.
On February 27, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the start of a plan to protect the population from COVID-19. The number of infected grew exponentially until March 22, when the detected cases leveled off and began to decline in early April. The Australian government is evacuating its citizens from all countries.
A state of emergency in our state was declared on March 16 – at first for four weeks with an appeal to stay at home, but now it has been extended until May 11. Australians are law-abiding people, the day after the announcement of an emergency, traffic on the roads decreased significantly. I remember the great discontent of citizens in connection with the late declaration of a state of emergency: people demanded quarantine much earlier.
A couple of weeks before the state of emergency, panicky buying of goods began in the state’s main supermarkets: Woolworth, Coles, Aldi and Costco. They flushed toilet paper, paper towels, disinfectants and cleaning products, rice, pasta, and meat products. I personally faced a shortage of meat products when we decided to make a barbecue at home with the whole family: the local butcher had only sausages, we took the last ones.
In less than a week, authorities began to impose restrictions on purchases (for example, one pack of toilet paper or paper towels in one hand), introduced certain hours (usually morning) of sales only for senior citizens and people with limited mobility, sales hours (usually in the evening) only for medical workers.
Every morning I watch long lines for takeaway coffee: people calmly wait, observing a distance of 1.5 meters. I rarely go to the store, only with a mask and gloves on — I don’t know about my status with respect to the coronavirus, these are precautions: I fear for the weak immune system of those around me. In supermarkets, cash registers have protective plastic fences, self-service checkouts operate through one, at a distance of 1.5 meters. This week I hardly found a jar of liquid soap. Also in the evening it is difficult to find flour in the store – I think fitness clubs will have many customers after quarantine.
In the state of Victoria, starting March 23, everyone who is unable to buy food during self-isolation for one reason or another can call the state’s special hotline and order a free two-week grocery set with home delivery.
Assistance to citizens and business
The authorities are trying at all costs to maintain jobs and the efficiency of the economy. The Prime Minister, heads of state, the Minister of Health, and others speak daily on central television channels explaining the situation associated with the pandemic and measures to support citizens. On March 12, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the allocation of Australian $ 17.6 billion (A $) to support the economy, namely a tax exemption for small businesses, a lump sum allowance (A $ 750 per week) for retirees, veterans, and low-mobility citizens, pregnant women and the unemployed. Payments began on March 31.
And the day before, the Australian federal authorities announced the adoption of the third package of measures to stimulate the economy and help businesses in the amount of A $ 130 billion. ABC called it a record in the history of the country.
In accordance with this plan, called JobKeeper, the government will subsidize the salaries of workers in companies and organizations whose activities have been affected by the coronavirus crisis. Businesses will receive a subsidy of up to A $ 1,500 in two weeks per employee. Employers will be legally required to transfer the full wage subsidy to employees.
Employers with an annual turnover of less than A $ 1 billion can participate in the program if their income has fallen by no less than 30% since March 1. For employers with an annual turnover of over A $ 1 billion, income should decrease by 50%. Workers whose income does not exceed A $ 80,000 per year will qualify for the subsidy. More than 8,000 companies registered on the site within an hour after the prime minister announced the scheme, ABC said.
Wage subsidies will apply to part-time workers, nonprofit workers, and New Zealanders who work in Australia. Payments will also be made to those who have lost their jobs before the JobKeeper plan was adopted. Individual entrepreneurs, self-employed, partnerships and trusts are also entitled to participate. Payments should start in early May.
Government treasurer Josh Friedenberg said the JobKeeper scheme would benefit the worst-affected sectors. “This payment of A $ 1,500 is fixed and equivalent to about 70% of the average wage and about 100% of the average wage in those sectors that have been hit hardest by the coronavirus, such as retail, hospitality and tourism,” his ABC.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he expected 6 million Australians to receive subsidies over the next six months.
“Our wage subsidy system is more generous than New Zealand, and wider than the UK, because it applies to all employees, not just those who were fired,” Fridenberg said.
Elwood Beach is closed
Currently, Australia has implemented three stages of social restrictions for the population, the other day we are expecting a fourth. The first one was introduced on March 23: public places such as cinemas, restaurants, pubs, hotels, fitness clubs, and religious sites were closed. Restaurants and cafes operate in the “takeaway” mode. These measures were announced for a period of at least six months or until the next announcement. In public transport, I observe only 2–3 people. With the closure of schools, they dragged on until the official school holidays, which were postponed from March 27 to March 24. Many of my friends who could afford it did not take their children to school a week before the holidays. Monash University, which I graduated last year, announced the start of the semester a week later (they expected students to return from China), but in the end all universities switched to online education.
The next stages of social restriction in each state were their own. The second stage in Victoria was introduced on March 26, after the number of detected cases with COVID-19 in our state increased from 55 to 466.
Since April 12, restrictions have been introduced in the healthcare system – regarding surgical operations that can be postponed, limited wedding ceremonies to five people, funerals – to 10, closed amusement parks, swimming pools, health clubs, shopping centers, real estate auctions, beauty salons, campsites and caravan parks, closed non-essential business. You can’t get together for more than two people (exceptions are families), trips were limited only for vital reasons (work, doctor), borders between states were closed, guests in the house were forbidden (in some states only one person can come to visit).
Victoria Police announced official warnings, fines for violations, and even the possibility of arrests. Police patrol territories where violators of social distance are constantly identified. Usually these are young people who play rugby, soccer, or those who just gather at someone’s house.
Neighbors offer basil to everyone
Australians are an incredibly social people, it feels like they lack communication, especially in parks. In my opinion, people are now even more united because of a common problem. The neighbors are friendly and do not mind chatting, respecting social distance. Strangers continue to say hello on the street, although there are those who cross the other side of the sidewalk.