Bins unemptied and public transport cuts in crisis plan
RECYCLING bins could be left unemptied, traffic lights left on amber and public transport cut back under plans to keep essential services functioning in the growing coronavirus crisis.
Queensland councils are working to keep the state running in the face of mass illness and home isolation, with the head of the state's biggest local government, Brisbane Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner, warning it is "no use sugar-coating" the massive scale of the pandemic.
In Brisbane alone, a plan to send 5000 staff to work from home in the coming weeks will force council to cut back on non-essential services, including recycling bins, call centre operations and bus and CityCat services.
Treasury estimates put the coronavirus cost to Brisbane's economy at $5 billion or more, with the overall state impact likely to be $15 billion.
Southern states have also begun taking drastic measures to contain the virus, with Victoria halting jury trials for at least two weeks.
The NRL revealed it will seek a taxpayer-funded rescue package to survive the virus, while it was announced that the Gallipoli dawn service and other overseas Anzac Day events were likely to be cancelled.
In Queensland many people wore masks, but at a north Brisbane supermarket one shopper took his protective wear to an unusual level.
Fellow customers were surprised to see the man wearing a yellow helmet with a clear, full-face plastic veil and a large gas mask at Aldi Keperra.
"Everyone's faces were priceless … everyone was taking a double take," a Brisbane shopper said. "He was maybe in his early 60s ... he just did his shopping and generated a few interesting looks.
Plenty of people buying 10-packs of pasta and all the milk in the world."
Queensland's 46 confirmed coronavirus cases have include Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and Hollywood star Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, as health authorities warn that up to 60 per cent of the population will contract the virus.
The New Zealand cricket team yesterday cancelled their two remaining One Day Internationals against Australia as they headed for home to try and beat what their Prime Minister called the "toughest border restrictions in the world" that would force anyone entering the country into a mandatory 14-day self isolation.
"I make no apologies," NZ PM Jacinda Ardern said yesterday, at the same time announcing a total cruise ship lockout. "New Zealand will have the widest-ranging and toughest border restrictions of anyone in the world."
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said Europe had become the epicentre of the global pandemic, with new cases outstripping China's crisis at its height, director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. The continent now had "more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China".
In Brisbane, libraries and pools are likely to be closed in coming weeks.
Voters are also being urged to consider voting early in the council elections when pre-polling starts tomorrow, with the Electoral Commission saying it has the power to delay the March 28 local government election.
Cr Schrinner said while recycling bins may not be collected immediately, he reassured residents general waste bins would be emptied as well as those in larger parks.
CCTV Citysafe cameras will continue to operate, but call centres may be restricted to critical matters relating to resident safety and key council services.
Traffic lights may go to amber at some intersections, with priority given to public safety issues such as crashes, and general congestion management will be a lower priority.
Bus services will continue, depending on advice from Queensland Health, but could drop to a weekend-type schedule, with drivers isolated, a limit on passenger numbers and no cash payments. The same is expected to apply on CityCats.
Paid parking will be reduced to help small businesses and there will be allocated food pick-up locations for shopping centres as click-and-collect and delivery orders increase.
Cr Schrinner said essential services would be the council's top priority.
"Lower-priority services may be stopped altogether until staff availability allows a resumption,'' he said.
According to health advice provided to state and local government bosses yesterday, there is a 100 per cent chance that the virus will spread in coming days, weeks and months. The advice is that a vaccine is still at least six months away.
Cr Schrinner said thousands of Queenslanders would get "very, very sick'' if the virus explodes.
"This is real and it's upon us,'' he said. "The challenge here is to ensure we are able to properly cater for the critically ill. It's about slowing the infection transmission and managing the peaks to ensure there are enough people to take care of those who are ill and keep essential services operating."
He said Brisbane was a resilient city and people needed to be calm and confident, but wary that things will get worse.
"We are in for a tough time, a rough time, and we are preparing as best we can,''
Local Government Association of Queensland acting chief executive Sarah Buckler said "councils across Queensland remain focused on ensuring public safety and the continuity of essential services", refining their business plans to handle the virus.
The WHO said the world had reached a "tragic milestone" of 5300 deaths, with more than 140,000 cases of the virus reported in at least 123 countries since it emerged in December in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.