EXPLAINED: PM’s four week plan to lifting the lockdown
AUSTRALIA has extraordinarily begun its 30-day coronavirus countdown after Scott Morrison for the first time outlined the path to winding back draconian economic and social restrictions.
Sensing the public's patience was waning - especially off the back of a freefall in the number of new cases - the Prime Minister yesterday announced a three-pronged plan to allow for shutdowns being lifted in just four weeks - paving the way for mid-May merriment nationwide.
It also gives hope for a sooner than expected resumption of NRL and AFL games.
Mr Morrison said the country was now working on wider, extensive surveillance testing; greater tracing to crack down quickly on outbreaks; and boosting local response capabilities to smother potential flare-ups of COVID-19 - the trio of keys needed to unlock the country.
High-value, low-risk employers, such as construction and infrastructure employees, are likely to be first to fully go back to work.
Cafes, pubs and clubs are likely to reopen by June but with restrictions on the number of patrons in a venue.
Mr Morrison said the most important figure to consider was the "effective reproduction rate", which measured how many people an infected person gives the disease to.
In Australia it is lower than one - almost three times lower than other countries.
"We are going to move to an environment with fewer restrictions, then you need these three things in place and National Cabinet agreed … we will use the next four weeks to make sure we can get these in place,'' Mr Morrison said.
"The baseline restrictions that have been set, some weeks ago, will remain in place until we can achieve those three goals. If we are able to achieve that, well and good, but we want to be very clear with Australians, baseline restrictions we have in place at the moment, there are no plans to change those for the next four weeks."
Some states such as NSW and Western Australia, which have stricter measures, may be able to ease restrictions in place sooner to meet the baseline for the entire country.
Asked if the plan was working backwards by lifting the rolling restrictions put in place since mid-March, Mr Morrison said: "In broad terms I don't think that is an unfair assumption but the specifics of it are being worked through.
"I think social distancing, the washing of the hands, the doing of those things, that is what we should do until we find a vaccine.
"Those sorts of things, the 1.5m, being conscious of your distancing, we will live with this for the foreseeable future, but when it comes to the specific economic restrictions that have been put in place, after the next month then there will be the opportunity to review that and potentially make some changes if we need those other benchmarks."
Remarkably flagging that Australia could eradicate the virus, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy warned restrictions could not be not undone within a month.
"If we relax the distancing measures that are stopping or reducing that community transmission, that will inevitably lead to some more outbreaks of community transmission,'' he said. "Unless we are prepared as a nation to detect those outbreaks really early and get on top of them and controlled them and isolate the cases and quarantined the contacts, we could end up with large community outbreaks that could lead to situations like we've all seen every night on the nightly news in high-income countries with good health systems like the USA and the UK.
"We can't afford to do relaxation until we have a public health system which is so finely tuned that it can detect and respond to any outbreak."
Mr Morrison said he understood that Australians "like our freedoms" but "the suppression path is the best Australian path".
"We like our freedoms, we like to be able to do what we want to do. We like having a barbecue, we like going out and we really miss it and we miss our kids being able to get together and go to school and be with their friends, we miss all of them," he said.
Part of the strategy includes encouraging people to sign up to the TraceTogether app, which will track people's movements and alert them when they have come into contact with someone who has contracted coronavirus.
It should be ready within the next fortnight but will require a 40 per cent take-up by Australians to be effective.
Mr Morrison said technology with a "permission-based app", to identify cases quicker was akin to a "war bond".
Mr Morrison said there would also be a trial week of Parliament next month.
Mr Morrison told ABC's 7.30 last night that Australians may be called up and asked to be tested for coronavirus.
EXPLAINED: THE THREE CONDITIONS REQUIRED TO LIFT LOCKDOWNS
What is wider, extensive testing?
A More Australians with mild symptoms will be tested, with quicker tests to be used. Every unusual pneumonia in every hospital is being tested.
What is greater tracing?
A The Morrison Government wants Australians to sign up to the TraceTogether app, which will track people's movements and alert them when they have come into contact with someone who has contracted coronavirus. It should be ready within the next fortnight but will require a 40 per cent take-up by Australians. Quicker identification of breakouts will allow ring fencing and lockdowns in a certain radius.
What is boosting local response capabilities to smother potential flare-ups?
A Every state will have a plan to send in reinforcements when an outbreak occurs. It means the ADF or highly mobilised medicos will be dispatched to areas to treat and smother outbreaks.
Originally published as EXPLAINED: PM's four week plan to lifting the lockdown