news

The 3 things the Government needs to see before COVID-19 restrictions can be lifted.

In a press conference on Thursday afternoon, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia is firmly in the “suppression phase” of its fight against COVID-19.

He noted that more than half of the people diagnosed with the virus in Australia have already overcome it, and that our all-important ‘reproduction rate’ is below one, which means each person who contacts the virus infects fewer than one person. That’s exactly what epidemiologists aim for in situations like these.

“Our data and our experience shows that, in that phase, we are doing relatively very well,” Prime Minister Morrison said. “Particularly over countries that are using even more extreme forms of lockdown.”

So, what does that mean for physical distancing restrictions?

Watch: Scott Morrison on when restrictions will be reviewed.

Video by 9News
ADVERTISEMENT

Well, the prime minister used phrases like “road out”. But while he didn’t give a clear picture of what that might look like (as in, which measures could be lifted), he did outline what it will take to get there.

The National Cabinet — the body of federal and state leaders convened to respond to the crisis — has agreed that three things need to be “in place” before restrictions can start easing.

1. More testing, including those without symptoms.

The first is increased testing of people who don’t show COVID-19 symptoms.

“If we are to move to a different phase when it comes to the restrictions we need an even broader testing regime than we have at this point,” the Prime Minister said.

“Now we have one of, if not the most, extensive testing regimes in the world today but we need to do even better than that to ensure that we can have greater confidence that when we move to a lesser restriction environment, then we can have confidence that we’ll be able to identify any outbreaks very, very quickly and respond to them.”

Australia has so far performed more than 380,000 COVID-19 tests.

2. Better contact tracing, including government tracing apps.

Prime Minister Morrison praised the current contact-tracing regime being executed by state authorities, as they work to identify and notify people who have been in contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19.

But he said that needs to be ramped up.

“We need to lift that to an industrial capability and we need to do that using technology and we need to do that as soon as we possibly can,” Prime Minister Morrison said.

Listen: COVID-19 conspiracy theories debunked by experts. (Post continues.)

This is a reference to the tracing mobile app to be rolled out by the Government in a fortnight. The app, which Australians can download onto their smartphones, will make it dramatically easier for authorities to determine who may have been exposed to an infected person.

Participation will be voluntary, but to be effective the app will reportedly need to be downloaded by 40 per cent of the population.

“We will be needing the support of Australians,” Prime Minister Morrison added. “If we can get that in place, if we can get our tracing capability up from where it is, then that is going to give us more options and Australians more freedoms.”

3. Localised lockdown procedures.

This is about having procedures and personnel in place to respond to any future, localised outbreaks that will likely pop up.

“We’re seeing this, in part, now in north-western Tasmania where we have an outbreak,” the prime minister said. “The Australian Defence Forces, the AUSMAT teams, working together with state authorities, have been moving very quickly to contain that outbreak.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Prime Minister Morrison was referring to the outbreak among staff in two hospitals in Burnie, leading to between 4,000 and 5,000 people being ordered to self-isolate with just a few hours warning.

“We need that ability to move very fast to be able to lock down an outbreak where it occurs and to ensure that it does not transmit more broadly within the community,” he said.

How long will all this take?

At least four weeks. And Prime Minister Morrison stressed the ‘at least’ part. That’s simply the period at which the status of the three criteria will be reviewed.

“A positive thing to say is that we’ve often found ourselves — as we have now — in a better place, ahead of time. If we’re able to achieve that, well and good,” he said. “But we want to be very clear with Australians that the baseline restrictions that we have in place at the moment, there are no plans to change those for the next four weeks.”

He added that, in the meantime, state governments may choose to adjust any additional or state-specific restrictions at their discretion.

“I know it’s a very anxious thing for Australians, and when they see the really good results, they go, ‘Well can’t we all just go back to how it was?'” he said. “None of us would like that more than any of us here. But let’s look to the experience of what has happened overseas. If you ease off too quickly, too early, then you end up making the situation even worse, and I don’t just mean in the health terms.

“If you move too early and the health response gets out of control, then the economic consequences will be even worse. And so we need to keep it finely balanced, that is what we are seeking to do.

“We have stayed ahead of it, we’ve got to keep ahead of it. We can’t allow our patience to wear off.”

Read more about COVID-19:

To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, remain in your home unless strictly necessary, keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.

Feature image: Getty.

00:00 / ???