Leaders issue Easter coronavirus warning

The Easter long weekend looms as a critical test in Australia’s battle against coronavirus, with people urged to stay at home during the holiday period.

Health authorities are warning against complacency after encouraging figures showed the infection rate rising just 1.8 per cent over the past three days.

Australia’s new daily cases fell below 100 on Thursday, the first time it has slipped under that daily threshold for three weeks.

More than 6100 people in Australia have contracted coronavirus, with 53 deaths.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the reduced infection rate was an important development but strict social distancing measures must remain in place.

“This Easter is the time when any Australian can help save a life with their decisions, or inadvertently risk a life,” Mr Hunt said.

“This is the moment to lock in the gains, to stay at home, to protect other people, and if we do that, we give ourselves the best way through this.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison used his Easter message to drive home the importance of social distancing during what is usually a weekend of gatherings.

Drawing on his own faith, Mr Morrison acknowledged this holiday would be vastly different, with online church services and no large family events.

“For Christians, not being able to gather does not diminish the hope that we have through this important Easter period,” he said in a video message.

‘This year, we will live out our faith by doing the right thing.

“That means staying at home, making sure we’re checking on our neighbours and supporting our communities and families, our friends.”

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese in a statement issued a similar message, imploring Australians to stay home for the sake of community wellbeing.

He also thanked those working over the weekend on the crisis’ frontline.

“This age of social distancing and self-isolation means that we are all keeping 1.5 metres apart. But in so many ways, we as Australians have never been as together as we are now,” Mr Albanese said on Friday.

The federal government, meanwhile, has reached an agreement with Qantas for three rescue flights from Peru, Argentina and South Africa for Australians stranded through border closures and lockdowns.

Those flights are expected next week while a separate government rescue flight returned about 280 Australians from Peru on Thursday.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the government would help arrange flights over the coming weeks but couldn’t make promises over the long term.

“But you can get home from places if you can connect into London or Hong Kong or Singapore or San Francisco because we put in place those regular flights,” Mr Birmingham told the Nine Network on Friday.

Australian independent schools will also be forced to open in term two after the federal government threatened to cut funding.

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