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http://www.minterellison.com/articles/covid-19-additional-funding-and-further-restrictions

COVID-19: additional funding and further restrictions

4 minute read  30.03.2020 Nicole Morgan, Kylie Diwell

On 29 March, the Prime Minister announced further restrictions and additional funding to help respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 29 March 2020, the Commonwealth Government released a new coronavirus app and WhatsApp channel (aus.gov.au/whatsapp) and also announced a package of $1.1 billion to boost mental health services, domestic violence support, Medicare assistance for people at home and emergency food relief.

Additionally, following a meeting of the National Cabinet on 29 March 2020, the Prime Minister announced additional restrictions for indoor and outdoor public gatherings, a moratorium on evictions over the next six months for commercial and residential tenancies in financial distress and recommended additional social distancing measures for older Australians.

Additional funding and support initiatives

On 29 March 2020, the Prime Minister announced additional funding initiatives including:

  • $669 million to expand Medicare-subsidised telehealth services for all Australians, with extra incentives to GPs and other health practitioners. The new arrangements will be in place until 30 September 2020, when they will be reviewed in light of the need to continue the fight against COVID-19;
  • an initial $150 million to support Australians experiencing domestic, family and sexual violence due to the fallout from COVID-19 and boost programs under the National Plan to reduce violence against women and their children;
  • an initial $74 million to support the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians, with the Government’s digital mental health portal, Head to Health (www.headtohealth.gov.au); and
  • an additional $200 million to support charities and other community organisations which provide emergency and food relief.

Further restrictions on indoor and outdoor public gatherings

On 29 March 2020, the Prime Minister announced that the National Cabinet agreed to limit both indoor and outdoor gatherings to two persons only. Exceptions to this limit include:

  • family units;
  • people of the same household going out together;
  • funerals (a maximum of 10 people);
  • weddings (a maximum of 5 people).

Additionally, from midnight 30 March 2020, playgrounds, skate parks and outside gyms in public places will be closed. Bootcamps will be reduced to two persons, including the trainer.

Additional measure for social distancing

Further restrictions on activities and venues were discussed at the National Cabinet meeting, and States and Territories agreed they would implement further measures specific to their own region, including closing categories of venues, where medical advice supported this action. These measures would be risk-based and targeted at non-essential activities.

The National Cabinet noted that 'We will be living with this virus for at least six months, so social distancing measures to slow this virus down must be sustainable for at least that long to protect Australian lives and help Australia to keep functioning.'

Advice for older Australians and those with existing health conditions

National Cabinet’s strong advice is for self-isolation at home to the maximum extent practicable for Australians:

  • over 70 years of age;
  • over 60 years of age who have existing health conditions or co-morbidities;
  • indigenous Australians over the age of 50 who have existing health conditions or co-morbidities.

These groups should limit contact with others as much as possible when they travel outside.

Commercial and residential tenancies

National Cabinet agreed to a moratorium on evictions over the next six months for commercial and residential tenants in financial distress who were unable to meet their commitments due to the impact of COVID-19.

Commercial tenants, landlords and financial institutions are encouraged to discuss a way forward to ensure businesses can survive COVID-19. A number of principles to govern intervention and aid commercial tenancies can be found here.

What does this mean for your business

National Cabinet’s strong guidance to all Australians was to stay home unless for:

  • shopping for what you need - food and necessary supplies;
  • medical or health care needs, including compassionate requirements;
  • exercise in compliance with the public gathering requirements;
  • work and study if you can’t work or learn remotely.

Therefore, the adverse impact of COVID-19 on retail and other business activity is likely to continue, and increase.

In relation to the restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings to two persons only, it will be a matter for each State or Territory as to whether this is mandated by way of legislation or directions or orders. In practice, subject to guidance from the States and Territories, it may mean that restaurants, cafés or other businesses that are open to the public may effectively be unable to operate (unless an exception applies, for example for take away purposes).

Depending on the way in which the measures are implemented within the States and Territories, it will be an offence if you do not comply with any directives, and the penalties may include a fine and/or imprisonment.

Where to from here

It has been agreed that States and Territories may implement further measures specific to their own region, including closing categories of venues, targeted at non-essential activities. Victoria and NSW have already flagged the likelihood for Stage 3 measures in their jurisdictions.

You should ensure you are up to date with any directions made in your jurisdiction in relation to these measures over the coming days, as it may affect your business.

Further information will be released shortly when the States and Territories make further announcements and operationalise the measures within their jurisdiction. 

Links to key documents

29 March 2020 National Cabinet Statement

29 March 2020 $1.1 billion to support more mental health, medicare and domestic violence services

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http://www.minterellison.com/articles/covid-19-additional-funding-and-further-restrictions

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