Peak of virus spread may be behind us

Professor Paul Kelly says coronavirus control measures are leading to a slowdown in new cases.
Professor Paul Kelly says coronavirus control measures are leading to a slowdown in new cases.

The peak of new coronavirus cases in Australia may already be behind us, but a quarter of all deaths from the disease have occurred in the past two days.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly says the significant slowdown in the rate of new cases each day shows the restrictions on daily life and social distancing measures have successfully flattened the curve.

But he is cautious about predicting that rate wouldn't go up again.

"The peak in terms of the daily cases indeed was last week or the week before, at the moment," he said on Monday.

"Whether that is the final peak, I can't really say at this stage, it's speculation."

So far, there are 5795 people with coronavirus in Australia.

Of these, 41 people have died, including six on Monday and five on Sunday.

But a number of states have reported lower numbers of new infections and even zero in the ACT.

Professor Kelly warned against younger people becoming complacent, saying coronavirus was not just an older person's disease and there were a number of people aged in their 30s among the worst-affected patients now in intensive care and on ventilators.

That said, the nation's leaders and medical experts are now starting to look at how and when to start easing the tough restrictions in place to slow the disease's spread.

That will include a consideration of how prepared the health system is for an increase in cases and what effect lifting particular measures would have on new case numbers.

"But I would say that people have been so far extraordinarily willing and able to change the way that they are living in Australia, and I think that will come into play for some of those processes as well," Prof Kelly said.

Governments are concerned that people will be tempted to breach restrictions on movements and social distancing rules over the coming Easter weekend.

Popular beaches in Sydney and Queensland, including Manly, Surfers Paradise and Coolangatta, closed on Monday amid concerns people continued to flock there.

While the Easter Bunny has been given a travel "eggs-emption" by West Australian Premier Mark McGowan, the state has become "an island within an island" after closing its borders to almost all human travellers.

And in Victoria, police fined a learner driver for being out on a non-essential trip when her mother took the opportunity to give her some wet weather road experience.

The Morrison government continues to tweak its massive wage subsidy program before legislation is put to parliament on Wednesday.

Under the latest decisions, charities will find it much easier to access the $1500 fortnightly JobKeeper program but casual workers won't be as lucky.

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter is under pressure from unions and Labor to extend the $130 billion program to more casual workers.

But he is digging in to ensure the payment is only available to workers with a 12-month link to a single employer.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has suggested casuals should get the payments if they had a reasonable expectation of ongoing work were it not for the virus.

Mr Porter dismissed that as not workable.

"There has to be a line drawn," he said on Monday.

His opposition counterpart Tony Burke said the strict rules would hit private school teachers, tradies and people in the arts and entertainment who often had a series of jobs with different employers, even if they'd been in the sector for years.

"If you've got a situation that the person who is relying on the casual job to support a household misses out and the person who's doing the job for pocket money gets $1500, then they probably haven't drawn the line as best they could," he said.

Meanwhile, not-for-profit charities can now apply for the benefit if they have suffered a 15 per cent hit to revenue because of the pandemic.

But many charities are expected to still miss out because funding is often tied and can't be shifted around for other purposes.

However, the change means Australia's largest childcare provider Goodstart is eligible for JobKeeper.

Australian Associated Press