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Australia curbs gatherings, locks down travellers, in new coronavirus measures

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s most populous states will restrict public gatherings to two people from midnight, state leaders said on Monday, as part of a wave of new measures designed to slow the spread of coronavirus which has infected more than 4,000 across the country.

FILE PHOTO: New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian speaks during a state memorial honouring victims of the Australian bushfires at Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, February 23, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

The neighbouring eastern states of New South Wales and Victoria account for most of Australia’s total COVID-19 infections and death toll, which stands at 17.

“It is only in exceptional circumstances that you should leave home,” New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in Sydney on Monday.

“We will get through this. We are in a position now which allows us to control the spread as much as possible.”

Police in neighbouring Victoria will issue fines of A$1600 ($984) to people who breach a limit of two people gathering in public, unless the group is from one household.

“Unless you want to be burying an elderly relative or your best mate, or your parents … do the right thing,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said in Melbourne on Monday.

The small island state of Tasmania also imposed a two-person limit on public gatherings from midnight, and became the country’s first state to ban people from alternating between their main home and their second home, if they have one.

“There will not be movement between your shack and your primary place of residence, allowing you to alternate and sleep nights in both,” state premier Peter Gutwein said, using the slang for holiday homes.

“You will need to make a choice,” he added.

Tasmania reported its first coronavirus death overnight, which took the country’s total deaths from the illness to 17. Confirmed COVID-19 cases are around 4,200 nationwide, although authorities said the rate of daily infections had halved in recent days.

Amid the extraordinary shutdown of businesses and resulting layoffs, the regulators and banks have taken measures to pause loan repayments for six months. Overnight, the federal government said it was putting a six-month moratorium on evicting renters.

All travellers arriving home in Australia from overseas meanwhile must go into monitored quarantine in hotels or other facilities for 14 days, under police supervision, according to measures implemented at the weekend.

Australia has swayed in recent weeks between policies designed to keep as many businesses open as possible, and a more aggressive push to lock down the country, causing some confusion.

Amid concerns distressed assets could be snapped up by overseas buyers, Australia said on Monday that all foreign investment proposals would be assessed by the relevant government agency during the duration of the crisis.

While most virus cases have been detected in major cities, clusters have also emerged in tourist destinations, such as in the Barossa Valley, a wine region in South Australia.

Reporting by Jonathan Barrett and Byron Kaye; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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via Reuters