SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian officials warned that an accelerating number of coronavirus infections could start overwhelming the country’s intensive care units, as stricter social distancing measures came into force on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced new curbs late on Tuesday that will close more non-essential businesses, pushing the country closer to the stricter lockdown measures imposed in parts of Europe.
The latest restrictions limit the number of people attending a wedding to five – the couple, the celebrant and two witnesses – while funerals will be limited to 10 people.
As Australian case numbers surged past 2,250, Victoria state premier Daniel Andrews said if the same long queues appearing outside offices of the main welfare agency, Centrelink, started forming at hospitals, there would be fatal consequences.
“If this gets away from us, our health system will be overrun and people won’t just be queuing for Centrelink payments, they’ll be queuing for heart, lung machines and ventilators and intensive care b and we know what that means – you cannot queue for intensive care,” Andrews said in Melbourne.
Morrison also announced a new corporate taskforce on Wednesday to be led by Nev Power, former chief executive of iron ore miner Fortescue (FMG.AX), that will focus on redeploying workforces and equipment, and seek to protect critical supply chains.
Australian leaders have become increasingly frustrated with breaches of social distancing measures that saw thousands flock to beaches and pubs in recent days before new restrictions were implemented.
Andrews said a 500-strong squad of Victorian police were checking on thousands of people who have returned from overseas to make sure they are obeying isolation orders.
In a chain of events described by New South Wales state Police Minister David Elliott as a “monumental stuff-up”, about 2,700 passengers were allowed to leave the ship when it docked in Sydney on March 19 despite some showing signs of illness.
Coordination and health checks will be stepped up following the event, he said.