The COVID-19 outbreak suddenly feels very real.
After weeks where the disease was mainly a problem most of us could comfortably watch from afar, in the past few days it has barged its way into all of our lives.
Supermarkets shelves are being emptied of not just toilet paper but also staples like flour, rice, pasta, bread and eggs, pharmacies are rationing sales of ventolin and other vital medicines, the nation has closed its borders to foreigners, airlines have grounded international flights and football matches are being played in empty stadiums.
Just a week ago Prime Minister Scott Morrison was insisting he would be attending a National Rugby League match that weekend to watch the Cronulla Sharks, and the government held short of banning mass events, instead "advising against" non-essential gathering of 500 or more.
At the time, Australia had 198 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 41 detected that day (Friday, March 13) and four deaths, and Mr Morrison said the actions being taken by governments around the country were about "getting ahead of this".
"I think there is every reason for calm. There is every reason for people to go about their usual business," he said.
A week later, and the number of cases has reached 785 at the time of writing.
Daily life is assuming a new complexion. Buses, trams, trains and roads have suddenly become a lot less crowded, there are far fewer planes in the sky, sporting competitions and cultural events are being cancelled or postponed, and bars, pubs, clubs, restaurants and cafes are emptying.
Those who can are increasingly working from home while thousands are trapped indoors in self-isolation.
In a short space of time, the phrases "social distancing" and "flattening the curve" have become part of daily parlance and people are even getting used to greeting each other with smiles and nods rather than handshakes and hugs.
The seriousness of the situation has been driven home by officialdom.
The Reserve Bank of Australia has announced extraordinary measures to try and keep the economy afloat, taking action that goes well beyond that undertaken during the depths of the global financial crisis.
The central bank has cut official interest rates to a record-low 0.25 per cent, where they are likely to remain for at least three years. It has also extended a $90 billion line of credit to banks to enable them to provide cheap loans to business, and has embarked on an open-ended program of government bond purchases aimed at supporting the flow of low-cost funds through the financial system.
The major banks have announced their own measures, including a six-month deferral on repayments for $100 billion of loans to small businesses. In addition, the National Australia Bank says home borrowers in difficulty will be able to pause mortgage repayments for up to six months, a move other lenders are expected to follow.
Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has warned there will be a "a major hit to economic activity and incomes ... that will last for a number of months".
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has admitted a recession will be "very hard to avoid".
After the federal government spent most of the past year resisting sustained calls from Dr Lowe and other economists to help stimulate economic activity, the coronavirus outbreak has forced its hand.
On March 12, it unveiled a $17.6 billion package, including $4.8 billion for one-off $750 cash handouts to aged pensioners, veterans, the unemployed and other welfare recipients, $3.9 billion of investment incentives and $8 billion of measures to support business cash flow.
Economists, including former prime ministerial economic adviser Stephen Koukoulas, say the package is a useful first step, but warn much more is needed.
The government is expected to announce a substantially bigger stimulus plan this weekend, possibly worth around $80 billion, equivalent to 4 per cent of gross domestic product.
The US Senate is due to vote on a $US1 trillion ($1.7 trillion) package that includes $US500 billion of direct payments to households and $US500 billion of small business loans.
New Zealand's $NZ12.1 billion ($11.9 billion) package includes wage subsidies, leave and self-isolation support, as well as business tax flow and cash measures.
In hard-hit Europe, the European Central Bank has unleashed a massive 750 billion euro ($1.4 trillion) government and corporate bond-buying program in an effort to shore up liquidity in financial markets.
The goal, as Dr Lowe puts it, is not so much to avoid recession but to "build a bridge" to the other side of the crisis so that when the crisis passes the economy can recover as quickly as possible.
"Without that bridge, there will be more damage, some of which will be permanent, to the economy and to people's lives," he says.
But to get there the virus outbreak first needs to be contained, both here and abroad, and the signs are that things will get much worse before they get better.
The rate of infections, locally and internationally, is accelerating.
Since the start of the month, the number of confirmed cases in Australia has surged from 28 to 785, including an alarming 20 per cent jump on Thursday, driven by significant increases in detected infections in NSW and Queensland.
NSW remains far and away the state most seriously affected by the outbreak. As at Friday it had 382 confirmed cases, almost 49 per cent of the national total, and was home to six of the eight COVID-19 fatalities recorded across the country.
The nation's most populous state is also the epicentre of local transmissions of the disease. Of 78 confirmed cases where people have caught COVID-19 locally, 63 (80 per cent) are in NSW.
By comparison, the other states and territories have so far got off lightly.
Victoria has 150 confirmed cases and no deaths; Queensland has 144 cases and one death; Western Australia has 52 cases and one death; South Australia has 42 cases and no deaths and Tasmania has 10 cases and no deaths. The ACT has just six cases and no deaths. The Northern Territory has one case.
There was a moderate slowdown in new cases detected on Friday, when 76 were added to the total by late in the day, a significant step down from the 142 confirmed the previous day. But health experts warn it is far too early to say whether this is just a statistical blip or if it represents the beginning of a sustained slowdown in the rate of infections.
Nonetheless, by comparison with other countries, Australia appears so far to be faring relatively well.
The world was on track to pass a grim milestone on Friday as the worldwide COVID-19 death toll climbed remorselessly toward 10,000, people while the total confirmed cases soared above 242,000.
As the country at the centre of the outbreak, mainland China has reported 81,155 of these cases and 3231 fatalities.
More positively, the World Health Organisation has reported that for the first time since the outbreak began in December, China has recorded no new domestic cases and more than 70,000 people who have made a complete recovery from the disease.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the absence of domestic transmissions was "an amazing achievement".
Italy has rapidly become the worst-affected country outside China.
The first cases were detected on January 29, when two visitors from Wuhan, China, were tested in Rome and placed in isolation.
The following day Italy blocked all flights to and from China, but the virus was already in the community.
On February 21, an Italian national tested positive to COVID-19, sparking the lockdown of 11 communities in the country's north and a curfew on restaurants and bars in Lombardy.
A month later the world's eighth-largest economy has been ravaged by the disease. As of Friday, it had 41,035 confirmed cases and 3405 deaths, with 4440 who have recovered. This in a country little more than double Australia's population.
Iran, with 84 million people, has also been hit hard. It has more than 18,400 confirmed cases and 1284 deaths. Spain has emerged as another infection hotspot, with 17,963 cases and 830 deaths.
Concerns are also mounting in the United States and France, where the number of infections have jumped to 13,678 and 10,886 respectively and the fatalities are mounting.
The French death toll reached 243 on Friday, while that of the US reached 191. Of 2716 confirmed cases in the United Kingdom, 137 have resulted in the death of the patient.
Across the world, countries are bring the shutters down on their borders in an effort to slow the virus's spread. Australia is among them.
The government has enacted a travel ban on all non-citzens and non-residents, following confirmation that around 80 per cent of infections involved people who caught the virus overseas. The biggest number of cases has involved people coming from the United States, rather than China, Iran, Italy or the UK.
In addition to its stimulus measures, the federal government has convened a national cabinet comprising all federal, state and territory leaders.
It has met four times so far in an effort to co-ordinate health and economic measures and provide consistent and coherent messages to the public.
Mr Morrison says the cabinet has cleaved closely to the advice of the Commonwealth's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy, his deputy Paul Kelly, and the Australian Health Principals Committee, comprising all federal, state and territory chief medical officers.
This has included the highly controversial decision to keep schools open, even as adults are being urged to practice social distancing and work from home as much as possible.
Mr Morrison warns that lives and "tens of thousands of jobs" would be put at risk if schools were closed and parents, many of them health workers, were forced to look after their children at home.
According to the Prime Minister, the country has "got ahead" of the pandemic, and is working very hard to stay there.
This is fiercely disputed by critics like Kirby Institute for Infection and Immunity adjunct professor Bill Bowtell, who is "deeply concerned that we are on a path of exponential growth [in infections] that might end up with the calamitous situation we see in Europe and America".
Professor Bowtell, who was instrumental in the national response to the AIDS/HIV outbreak, has accused the government of a languid response to COVID-19 that has increased the likelihood of mass infections and deaths.
He says the government has failed to learn from the experience of countries like Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea in combating the disease, and has instead followed the herd immunity model of disease management that appears to have been adopted by the UK and the US.
The result has been a shortage of testing kits and vital medical supplies, inadequate measures to prevent spread such as closing schools and locking down communities, and poor public health information, he says.
His concerns have been echoed by Australian National University immunologist Carola Vinuesa, who says urgent and drastic action is needed to prevent the health system being overwhelmed.
"They have been very slow responding to the epidemic in Australia," she says. "We have a small window of opportunity to learn the lessons from what is happening overseas, but we are exhausting it very rapidly, and if we don't take more drastic action, by the beginning of April we will be where Spain is today. We have only got a few days."
But Mr Morrison insists the measures taken by governments to curb the spread of the virus not only have to be effective but also sustainable over a period of up to six months.
"We are going to keep Australia running," he says. "It won't look like it normally does but it is very important that we continue to put in place measure that are scalable and sustainable. There is no short-term quick fix."
Hundreds and thousands of lives depend on the government getting this right.
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