Beginning of the end? Plan to lift restrictions revealed
COMMUNITY sports, reopening retail operations and small social gatherings will be among the first activities to have restrictions eased, while bans on large events, weddings and international travel will remain.
For the first time, Australians have been shown the road map to easing draconian social distancing measures as health authorities revealed the first "cautious" steps of easing restrictions and what they were likely to include.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the key health measures that could trigger National Cabinet to ease restrictions in three weeks would be how much the virus was spreading, especially community transmissions, and the national testing capability.
"There is great concern that if we relax too much too quickly we could get a second wave as has been seen in Singapore," he told a Senate inquiry yesterday.
But Prof Murphy warned border controls would "absolutely" be the last measure rolled back, with international travel likely to remain banned for at least the next four months.
He said the most likely but still speculative scenario was to open the border to a country such as New Zealand, which had also successfully flattened the curve.
"The international situation at the moment is such that any relaxation of border measures would be very risky," he said.
While being careful not to "pre-empt" the National Cabinet, Prof Murphy said the medical expert panel was creating a "comprehensive" reopening plan that could start being rolled out in three weeks.
"Certainly some relaxation of the size of small groups is possible," he said. "There are a range of measures (National Cabinet) has asked us to consider, things like community sport, some retail measures, all those things will be in the mix but we have to weigh up the public health risk versus the benefit to the society and the economy."
He said resuming community sport was "really important" and it could be done safely.
"We have to keep the public with us," he said.
"The public have been fantastic but we have to make sure our measures are sustainable because there will be some sort of measure that will be needed for quite a long time."
Prof Murphy said the most important measure authorities would be monitoring as they navigated the road out of restrictions was community transmissions, which have recently reduced to a "tiny handful" a day.
"If you've got cases that are appearing in the community without a known contact, they're the ones that are worrying us and that's why we introduced the distancing," he said.
He said National Cabinet also needed to be convinced there was sufficient testing so everyone in the country with acute respiratory illness and some asymptomatic people were being sampled.
It comes as Queensland's Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young revealed she was beginning to relax restrictions around funerals, which are limited to 10 people.
She said she had been granting exemptions within the Sunshine State, which yesterday recorded just two new COVID-19 cases, to allow up to 20 people at a service, providing mourners kept 1.5m apart, used hand sanitiser and did not attend if they were unwell.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia is "on the road back" from the coronavirus shutdown and talked of moving to a "COVID-safe economy".
Mr Morrison said he did not want to "get ahead" of the medical experts' recommendations but he was focused on resuming activities that were "more low-health risk and more high-economic value."
"My priorities are to get kids back to school, to get people back to work," he said.
"And in terms of the broader social restrictions that are overseen by the states, I think there is a reasonable expectation from the public - based on the tremendous patience and discipline that they've shown - that they will get some relief on those fronts as well."
He said despite the current low rate of new cases, Australians should not become complacent.
"We are on the road back and that is demonstrated by the measures that we already have taken and we are on the way back to a COVID-safe economy as well, which is what we have to achieve," he said.
Originally published as Beginning of the end? Plan to lift restrictions revealed