Protesters and conspiracy theorists rallied in Melbourne yesterday protesting lockdown restrictions, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison considers winding back JobKeeper and JobSeeker against Labor’s advice.
Victoria relaxes restrictions, finally
Following anti-lockdown protests over the weekend (more on that below), Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews this morning announced a slight easing of restrictions in the state.
From midnight tomorrow, five people will be able to visit another household, with a maximum of 10 people allowed to gather outdoors.
“They should be family and friends, after all, they are the people that mean the most to us and that’s where it has hurt, people not being able to connect with the people that are most important to them,” he said in a press conference.
Weddings can now host 10 guests, with 20 people allowed to attend funerals — 30 if it’s outdoors. Community counselling services will also be allowed to meet with up to 10 people indoors.
Andrews said 161,000 people had been tested in the past fortnight, with 30 new cases of coronavirus found in the state.
“They’re not connected to an outbreak, not connected to overseas travel. What that tells us is the virus is still with us — it is in the Victorian community,” he said.
Instead, Labor leader Anthony Albanese has called the crisis a “once in a political lifetime” chance to reshape the economy to create better jobs and more secure social housing.
In a draft speech, released to the media, Albanese said Australia should bring forward nation-building infrastructure projects, increase investment in social and affordable housing, build up its domestic manufacturing capacity, make better use of scientific research, and help towns and regions through a decentralisation strategy.
“By and large we have avoided the worst of the health consequences … yet the damage to the economy has been severe,” he said in a press conference this morning.
“To the best of our ability we’ve kept a straight face while listening to recent converts Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg talk about the importance of economic stimulus. And we’ve nodded politely when a government that has ignored climate change has told us we should listen to the science and listen to the experts,”
Anti-lockdown and conspiracy theory protests
Ten people have been arrested in Melbourne following anti-lockdown protests which saw those against the social restriction measures — and some conspiracy theorists — clash with police.
Several protesters called COVID-19 a hoax, while others suggested the virus was created by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and spread via the 5G network.
A police officer was taken to the hospital with a rib injury. Most arrests were for flouting social distancing rules.
JobKeeper and JobSeeker on the line
Morrison is considering cutting, reducing or phasing out the $1500 JobKeeper payment amid fears companies are making a profit off it. The one-size-fits-all allowance is paid for each employee of eligible businesses, no matter the size of the business, or whether its workers are part-time or casual and previously earned less.
Economists have also warned “zombie firms” — which rely on the subsidy to survive and will disappear once it is removed — are cropping up, which would force people onto social security payments once they close.
JobKeeper is currently under budget by $20 billion, supporting 5 million employees instead of the 6 million it was designed to cover. A review will take place before the end of June.
The higher JobSeeker payment is also on the line, with Morrison saying there is “no guarantee” the $550-a-week payment would not be reduced again after six months.
Australia’s unemployment rate is approaching 10%, with the economy facing a $130 billion deficit.
More cases emerge from China
Parts of north-east China have been reclassified as high-risk following a new cluster of cases in the city of Shulan. Wuhan also experienced its first new case in more than a month. That patient had previously been asymptomatic.
UK relaxes restrictions
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a tentative easing of lockdown restrictions, saying schools and shops could reopen from next month and workers who can’t work from home would be encouraged to return to stores and offices.
The public messaging has switched from “stay home” to “stay alert”.
A 14-day quarantine will also be enforced for those arriving to the UK by plane — except, strangely, for travellers arriving from France