What You Need To Know: The ‘traffic light’ system and how it could reopen Australia.

Mamamia’s What You Need To Know series breaks down the big news stories for you in easy-to-understand terms. We’re not ‘dumbing it down’, we’re just providing the context that can so often be lost in today’s fast-moving and never-ending news cycle. Today, we break down the 'traffic light’ system that could help reopen Australia.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is getting restless. 

Australia's state and territory leaders remain strict in their lockdowns along border lines, but after the death of an unborn baby in Ballina on NSW’s north coast when a mother had to travel to Sydney instead of Brisbane for emergency surgery, he's adamant that things have to change. 

"Australia was not built to have internal borders, in fact the very point of federation was not to have them," Morrison told a Bush Summit in Cooma on Friday. 

Watch: The Project explains the traffic light system. Post continues after the video.

Video via The Project.

It's understood health experts are just days away from finalising a new lockdown criteria that will help Australia reopen internally.  


Here's what we know:

What is the 'traffic light' system? 

It was a system first recommended after the 2003 SARS outbreak, which is now being used across Denmark.

In Denmark, a region is considered safe and 'green' if there are fewer than 20 coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants in a week.

A 'green light' area means there's low and contained COVID-19 levels and the region is open for business, with travel permitted between green zones.

A region shifts to amber when more than 30 people per 100,000 inhabitants contract COVID-19 in a week, and comes with some level of lockdown and travel restrictions.

The area is declared red if cases continue to escalate and comes with heavy lockdowns and restrictions.

On Friday, Morrison said of the model: "I’m not suggesting this is precisely what we do in Australia but…they have clear metrics. I think that’s quite a sensible approach."

The Sunday Telegraph reports Denmark has briefed Australian officials on its system. 

Traffic-light systems have also been introduced in Hungary, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium and Mexico to classify travel to other countries as safe or otherwise. Austria has a similar alert system in place to determine restrictions in the classroom.

This is Hungary's travel traffic light system. Image: CGTNEurope. 

How would the 'traffic light' system work in Australia?


Prime Minister Scott Morrison is adamant there will be a "Commonwealth definition of a hotspot," as he works towards the goal of opening Australia's internal borders in time for Christmas.

"We must not allow this crisis, this pandemic, to force us to retreat into provincialism — that’s not the answer," he said on Friday. "If you impose a border, you can’t help but cause problems. That’s why we got rid of them in the first place."


However, all states and territories have to agree on what constitutes a 'hotspot' and how to determine if a region is green, amber or red, before such a system can be implemented. 

WHO advisor Mary Louise McLaws told The Project on Sunday she has a very conservative approach of how the system should work here. 

"I believe in being preemptive rather than reactionary. A green zone should be if you've got 0-59 cases over a two week period. Not just each day. Amber is 60-99 cases over two weeks, and red is 100 cases [in a fortnight]," she explained.


"Melbourne might have a metropolitan area that’s quite hot, and they’re in the amber [zone], but the rest of Victoria are green, so why can't they open up to South Australia or New South Wales if they’re green as well?" McLaws added.

Under a colour-coded system, Melbourne would be considered red right now, while Sydney and parts of Brisbane would be amber.

Australian National University infectious disease expert, Dr Peter Collignon, has endorsed the traffic light approach, telling the Canberra Times: "I personally think this is what we have to do. This is going to go on for the next year or two at least. We need to have some sort of objective criteria we use, which will invariably change over time, so that we can make it as safe as reasonable without having too many restrictions."

As The Conversation explains, the drawback to a system like this in Australia could be the level of confusion it might cause, as restriction levels could change more regularly depending on the number of cases. 

What do you think? Is this the way to reopen Australia? Let us know in the comments below.

Feature image: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty.