Australian Defence Force personnel watch over returning overseas travellers at Sydney International Airport in Sydney on Monday, March 30, 2020. Picture: Bianca De Marchi/AAP
Australian Defence Force personnel watch over returning overseas travellers at Sydney International Airport in Sydney on Monday, March 30, 2020. Picture: Bianca De Marchi/AAP

'Martial law': What stage four would mean

Your UberEats delivery could be next on the chopping block.

Officeworks may be spared but Harvey Norman might be forced to shut, while Bunnings has a decent chance of keeping its doors open if the country moves to "stage four" coronavirus lockdown.

If you're confused about what each stage entails - and even which stage we're in - you're not alone.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last night announced tougher social distancing guidelines, notably restricting outdoor gatherings to two people, but said they were "intended to be a guide" and were up to the states and territories to enforce.

Mr Morrison very specifically did not announce that the country was moving to widespread "stage three" lockdown.

But this morning, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced his state was moving to stage three, and would be enforcing the new federal guidelines around two-person gatherings with on-the-spot fines of up to $1600.

Under Victoria's definition of stage three, there are only four reasons to leave your house - for food and supplies, exercise, medical care or work and education if you cannot do so from home.

That lines up with the new guidelines issued by the PM on Sunday night.

In other words, it appears Mr Morrison sort of announced stage three, but left it up to each state and territory to officially announce "stage three".

So now that's all clear - is there a stage four? And if so, what would that look like?

"There is a stage four - just look at the UK and Europe - total lockdown," said public policy expert and former senior Howard Government adviser Terry Barnes.

"The list of essential businesses or jobs gets really tight. Effectively it's martial law without martial law. People will be monitored and fined for being out and about when they shouldn't be, if there are too many people in a group."

A man gestures from a hotel room at Crown Promenade Hotel in Melbourne where travellers and Australian residents are being sent for 14 days of mandatory quarantine. Picture: James Ross/AAP
A man gestures from a hotel room at Crown Promenade Hotel in Melbourne where travellers and Australian residents are being sent for 14 days of mandatory quarantine. Picture: James Ross/AAP

 

Services that are obviously essential like supermarkets, pharmacies and petrol stations will always remain open regardless of the level, but "anything that doesn't relate to the necessities of life or work" would be shut down in stage four.

"So places like Officeworks might be considered essential but the furniture department of Harvey Norman might not be," Mr Barnes said.

"I don't think there's been enough very clear definition either by the federal or state governments. I think there needs to be national agreement about what those essential services are."

Mr Barnes said with people confined to their homes, "trips to Bunnings to get stuff to DIY and use their time constructively" could be considered essential.

"The point is there's still a lot of uncertainty and that's an issue," he said.

"The national cabinet needs to be very clear in decision making and very clear in how they communicate. I don't think (it's helpful) when you have premiers saying one thing and the Prime Minister saying another."

Mr Barnes, who advised then-Health Minister Tony Abbott during the bird flu crisis, said the best overseas example to give an indication of where we might be heading is New Zealand, which is currently at "level four".

Under New Zealand's level four restrictions, liquor stores except those within an area controlled by a community-owned licensing trust have been closed. Those that remain open are forced to operate with a strict one-in, one-out policy.

 

Every restaurant, cafe and bar has been ordered to close "all aspects of their operation". In Australia, cafes and restaurants have been allowed to continue operating as takeaway only - for now.

Food preparation appears to be a key difference, with dairies allowed to remain open operating a strict one-in, one-out policy but prohibited from selling food prepared on the premises.

Grocery food deliveries such as My Food Bag and Hello Fresh have also been allowed to continue "as long as the food is not pre-cooked".

The New Zealand Government has an exhaustive list on its website of what are considered "essential businesses".

"If a business isn't sure if it provides services or products which qualify as essential, it should close," the website notes.

frank.chung@news.com.au

 

Originally published as 'Martial law': What stage four would mean


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