Good morning, this is James Murray bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Monday, 23 March.


Scott Morrison’s decision to keep schools open, while shutting pubs, entertainment venues and cinemas, casinos and nightclubs has caused confusion throughout Australia. The prime minister’s decision came as NSW and Victoria publicly signalled that they would take steps to close schools early. Morrison said he had introduced more draconian measures because the behaviour of the public over the weekend “sent a very clear message … that the social distancing practices are not being observed as well as they should be”. If you’re not sure what’s open and what’s closed – here’s a full list. Sunday saw a record rise in confirmed cases, with backpacker parties in Bondi and disembarking cruise ship passengers blamed for the steep uptick in numbers.

A second financial stimulus package worth $66bn offers the unemployed an extra $550 a fortnight, effectively doubling the rate of Newstart, and increases the wage subsidy to struggling small businesses to $100,000. Economist Stephen Koukoulas argues that although the new package is a step in the right direction, much more will need to be done in the coming months. The question now, writes political editor Katharine Murphy, is whether the Australian health system can cope as cases start to rise significantly.

In Europe, Spain has now extended its state of emergency to 15 April after 394 deaths recorded on Saturday. Residents are barred from leaving home except for essential outings like buying food or seeking medical care. In Italy, the government shut all non-essential businesses after 793 people died in a single day, the largest number of people to die in one country in a 24-hour period from Covid-19. German chancellor Angela Merkel is now in quarantine after coming into contact with a doctor who tested positive. Germany has more than 22,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, but so far only 84 deaths. The stark comparison with Italy, a country with similar numbers of people over the age of 65, continues to intrigue experts. Germany has the lowest mortality rate of any of the countries severely hit by the epidemic; 0.3% compared with 9% in Italy and 4.6% in the UK. A more widespread testing regime and a health service that has not been overrun by new cases are cited as possible reasons why. Meanwhile in the UK, prime minister Boris Johnson has decided to hold a daily press briefing now the country has 5,700 positive cases. The PM’s closest adviser, Dominic Cummings, has come under fire after it was reported he defended the controversial “herd immunity” policy by saying “protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”. Downing Street has called the allegation a “highly defamatory fabrication”. In France, tributes have poured in for the country’s first doctor to die from the virus. Jean-Jacques Razafindranazy was a retired 68-year-old A&E doctor who kept coming into work in order to help his colleagues. “He sacrificed himself,” his unnamed son said. “He wanted to help. He kept working because he loved it, it was his life. It’s not fair. We are sad and angry.”

In the United States there are now more than 26,000 cases and 340 reported deaths. New York state appears to be the centre of Covid-19 in the country, with 76 of the reported deaths coming from there alone. New York City mayor Bill De Blasio has blasted Donald Trump for his administration’s handling of the crisis. “We’re about 10 days away now from seeing widespread shortages of ventilators, surgical masks, the things necessary to keep a hospital system running,” he told CNN. “We have seen next to nothing from the federal government at this point.”

The IOC is considering a delay to the Tokyo Olympics. The news emerged as thousands defied Covid-19 to see the Olympic torch in northern Japan. The first two cases have been recorded in Gaza, raising fears about how the besieged territory’s overstretched health system will cope if the virus spreads through its population of 2 million. The usually hectic streets of India’s major cities were left deserted as the government there brought in a daytime curfew to try and curb the spread of coronavirus.


The Victorian government is being asked to bring forward its logging phase-out, scheduled for 2030. The calls come as new photos show 90% of protected east Gippsland forests have been destroyed.

The full impact of coral bleaching across the Great Barrier Reef will become clearer this week as aerial surveys of hundreds of reefs are completed in the bottom two thirds of the world’s biggest reef system. From Monday, the spotter plane will head south over reefs where satellite observations and temperature readings have led scientists to fear the reef may have been badly bleached.

The world

zagreb quake

A bike is buried under rubble after an earthquake in central Zagreb, Croatia. Photograph: Denis Lovrović/AFP via Getty Images

Croatia’s capital Zagreb has been hit with an earthquake while under a coronavirus lockdown. A 15-year-old was in a critical condition and 16 others were injured as a result of the quake, Croatian authorities said on Sunday afternoon.

Trump’s border wall with Mexico proceeds despite the coronavirus outbreak. The president is accused of “throwing billions at a monument out in the desert” when Covdi-19 is likely to cost the country trillions.

The forced disappearance of young black men in Brazil is on the rise in a trend aided by Bolsonaro’s rhetoric, according to human rights activists. Cases of poor young black men who are stopped by police and then show up dead or disappear completely are common in Brazil.

Recommended reads

Children play

‘Children learn through play. It doesn’t matter what they’re playing. They are learning.’ Photograph: Simon Ritzmann/Getty Images

“This is not forever.” A mantra for surviving quarantine with a toddler, suggests Amanda Abel, a paediatric psychologist in Melbourne. If lockdown means Netflix on the couch for some people, parents of young children have a job on their hands over the coming period as childcare facilities shut down and the options for entertaining toddlers narrow. Keeta Williams is here to help with a guide to caring for small children until the coronavirus crisis ends. Kindness is also spreading rampantly across the globe as people rally together to help vulnerable friends, family and neighbours. Psychology professor Lea Waters lists the things you can do to add to the phenomenon. And Kathryn Heyman writes about international travel in the Covid-19 age, describing “the quiet courtesy of travellers in these trying times”.

“Be careful”: the words of Spain’s last survivor of the Spanish Flu in 1918. The centenarian makes his warning as cases of Covid-19 around the world now exceed 318,000, with more than 13,500 deaths. “I don’t want to see the same thing repeated. It claimed so many lives,” says José Ameal Peña who was four years old when the 1918 flu tore through his small fishing town in northern Spain.

Jack Banister visits the Torres Strait to meet the keepers of the sleeping Kulkalgau Ya language, and talks with Phillemon Mosby, one of the language’s most determined defenders. “My grandmother wanted us to learn English and to learn the white way, but she never stopped talking language to us,” says Mosby. Language is now a part of the curriculum for schoolchildren on Poruma. “Language is what carries our custom, it’s what carries our practices, language is what teaches us what to say, who to say it to and when to say it,” he says.


Today’s Full Story podcast looks at kindness during the coronavirus epidemic. With our lives changing so dramatically over such a short period, the Full Story team search for stories of hope and community among the uncertainty the coronavirus has brought the world.

Full Story

Finding kindness in the time of coronavirus

Sorry your browser does not support audio – but you can download here and listen


The AFL faces the biggest financial crisis in its history after coronavirus forced the suspension of the 2020 season until at least 31 May. “To say this is the most serious threat to our game in 100 years is an understatement,” AFL chief executive Gillon McLachlan said on Sunday.

Media roundup

The Sydney Morning Herald leads on news that the IOC may delay the Tokyo Olympic Games as it ramps up scenario planning. The Age has a feature on the fate of Melbourne’s pubs, now closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. “I’ve been in this industry for 15 years, and I’d never really thought about this happening,” says Peter Sherwood, general manager at the Empress Hotel in North Fitzroy. “I used to joke we were the only ones who were recession-proof.” The Australian reports that the Ruby Princess cruise ship was deemed medium-risk 11 days before it docked in Sydney with a low-risk status. Critics have said health authorities did not conduct enough tests on the ship’s passengers, according to the newspaper.

Sign up

If you would like to receive the Guardian Australia morning mail to your email inbox every weekday, sign up here.

Source link