In many parts of the country, coronavirus numbers have been looking pretty good lately.
Naturally, we’re starting to think about when we can get back to normal.
But, while the latest update from the Prime Minister and Chief Medical Officer looked promising for ways we can start to shift back to normal life, they say it’s still too early to start lifting baseline restrictions.
Here are all the key points from their latest press conference.
What does the latest coronavirus modelling tell us?
It tells us that we’re making some good progress — but it’s still essential we don’t give up now.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy revealed new data based on Australian case numbers today, but stress the science used is “not very reliable”.
“They’re just developing this, and they’re very keen for me to say that this methodology is still being developed and advanced in their hands,” he said.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy shows off the latest coronavirus data. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)
“We are so grateful to the states and territories for organising this quarantine, and grateful for those Australian citizens who have put up with two weeks of quarantine to protect their fellow members of the community.
“Most of them have done so very graciously. They’re just pleased to be home in the safest place in the world to be.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said we’ve passed the first phase of the virus reaching Australia, called the “export phase”, we’re through the worst of the “repatriation phase” where large numbers of Australians returned home from overseas, and we’re now in the third phase — the “community phase”.
“We now have to be wary against community transmission, and so we are dealing with that third wave of the virus. We will also be then working towards decisions that we have to make over the next few weeks, getting the key data metrics in place as to how we’ll make decisions on further easing of restrictions,” he said.
Prof Murphy provided these latest coronavirus statistics:
- Australia has more than 6,600 confirmed cases
- 78 people have died
- 43 people are in intensive care around the country
- 29 of those are on ventilators
- 5,000 cases have recovered
What’s up with this coronavirus tracking app?
Mr Morrison confirmed today that the Government’s tracing app will be released “soon” and that progress is being made.
The app is designed to help authorities track close contacts of positive cases.
“There are still some issues we’re working through late in the piece, which is to be expected. We’re not too far away now,” he said.
“It received the in-principle support of the National Cabinet and we have been taking that through its final stages in recent days.”
There have been some concerns about where app users’ data will be stored and who can access it: Mr Morrison said it will be illegal for people to access the data who don’t need it.
“In terms of Australia’s data management, it’s a nationally encrypted data store,” he said.
“It will be illegal for information to go out of that data store to any other person other than that for whom the whole thing is designed, and that is to support the health workers in the state to be able to undertake the contact tracing, with the data that they access being released by the individual for whom is the subject of the contact tracing.”
When can we start going back to the office?
Well, a lot of that depends on what you do and how you do it — but the National Cabinet did today agree on new principles to ensure the smooth transition of people getting back to work.
The aim of the National COVID-19 safe workplace principles is to ensure people are safe and prepared to return to their workplace, and that there are plans in place for if a colleague or someone else in the workplace does test positive.
Mr Morrison said getting people back to their regular work routines would help lift the economy.
“I would love to see a return to normal right across the board,” he said.
Australian cities have been extremely quiet since social distancing measures were imposed. (ABC News: Billy Draper)
“I think we’re making a lot of progress. Where we are right now is much more in advance of where we thought we would be. And that’s good news. And that means we are able to take steps that we’re already taking right now that [are] getting us closer back to that point.”
The nine principles include that “businesses and workers must actively control against the transmission of COVID-19 while at work” and “businesses must, in consultation with workers, and their representatives, assess the way they work to identify, understand and quantify risks and to implement and review control measures to address those risks”.
Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak
Can I visit my relative in an aged care home now?
Some aged care homes have gone into total lockdown — in some cases, this is because a resident has tested positive to COVID-19, and in others, it’s just a precaution.
Today, Mr Morrison reaffirmed his comments from earlier in the week indicating that some nursing homes may be going too far with visitor restrictions — beyond the advice that was issued by National Cabinet — and said action may be taken if the situation didn’t improve.
The National Cabinet has agreed that if things don’t change to correspond more closely with the national medical advice, aged care facilities may need to seek an exemption to the national principles and explain why they need stricter visitor restrictions.
Some Australian aged care facilities, including Sydney’s Newmarch House, have experienced a number of coronavirus-related deaths. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
“Now, there are quite valid reasons why you would have exemptions, particularly as we’ve seen in north-west Tasmania at the moment, or what we’ve seen in Western Sydney or in other places,” Mr Morrison said.
“That is entirely sensible as to why you would have restrictions that are greater than the national baseline in those circumstances. Totally reasonable.
“But more broadly, having people stuck in their rooms, not being able to be visited by their loved ones and carers and other support people, that’s not OK.”
Mr Morrison said he would prefer if aged care facilities could make decisions on visitation limits at their own discretion.
“But we are not going to have these as secret places, where people can’t access them,” he said.
“We wanted to make sure that these facilities are open to their loved ones to be able to go and visit and to continue to go and engage with them unless there is a very real and serious medical reason why that would not be necessary.
“So, let’s hope that can be worked out consultatively and cooperatively, and that is my hope and expectation.”
If you have a relative in an aged care home, contact the facility directly to keep up to date with their latest visitation guidelines.
Your questions on coronavirus answered:
I miss my local sports team! When can we get back to playing?
Not just yet — but it’s on the agenda.
The PM was asked today about whether elite sport would return before community sport or vice versa — the National Cabinet is still discussing this issue, but it has agreed to develop national principles for sport and recreation.
The principles are set to address sport at a professional and elite level, a community competitive level and an individual, more casual level.
He said the National Cabinet’s point of view at this stage is to make sure it’s safe for sport to recommence, and that any decisions are as consistent across each jurisdiction as they can be.
“That was strongly supported today by all the states and territories, having something along those lines they would find very helpful, as I’m sure their residents would find helpful as well,” he said.
Mr Morrison said elite sporting bodies are working through their current plans with state and territory governments with the help of medical experts.
The results of that could influence community-level sport and when it may be able to re-commence.
“I think people would welcome seeing these things happening again, and not just at the elite and professional level,” he said.
“Everything around from going for a surf to, you know, having a game of football or whatever it happens to be. We want to get back to a place where that can happen and we can have the confidence to do it safely. And we want to do that as soon as we can.”
Do schools have to maintain social distancing?
For students in the classroom — no.
“The 1.5-metre and the four-square-metre rule is not a requirement of the expert medical advice in classrooms,” Mr Morrison said.
“I can’t be more clear than that. The advice cannot be more clear than that.”
Prof Murphy also said there’s no evidence of significant transmission of the virus in Australian schools.
“We think the community risk of having children together in a classroom is low,” he said.
“Most children who have contracted the virus in Australia have contracted it in the family home. They have not contracted it in the school environment.”
The 1.5-metre social distancing rule does not apply in classrooms, the PM confirmed today. (ABC News: Robert Koenig-Luck)
Prof Murphy did acknowledge that schools pose a risk for adult-to-adult transmission, including between teachers and parents.
“We have made a range of recommendations of keeping vulnerable teachers out of the school environment, practising good distancing in the staff room, practising good practices when parents bring their children to school,” he said.
“AHPPC advice has not at any stage been that we should close schools.”
Prof Murphy said NSW Health had conducted a study into coronavirus infections in a school setting which had “not found evidence that children are transmitting this virus in schools”, with the report expected to be made public soon.
Your questions on coronavirus answered:
Is now the time to start wearing a face mask?
If you’re not sick, no.
Prof Murphy said low-quality face masks just give a false sense of security and that social distancing is more effective.
“We are not recommending the general community wear masks. We have been saying that consistently through the pandemic,” he said.
Mr Morrison said masks were common around airports to prevent transmission, not to protect healthy people from catching coronavirus.
“The medical expert panel, we accepted their advice that it is not recommended by the expert panel that they are necessary to be worn,” he said.
If you’re healthy, there’s no need to be wearing a face mask in public. (Reuters: Gustavo Graf)
“Importantly, it’s important to note that the wearing of such a mask does not protect you from an infection, but if you are displaying respiratory symptoms then it is, at best, a measure that prevents you transferring it to others.”
However, if you are feeling unwell with flu-like symptoms, every state and territory in Australia has broadened their testing criteria from today (some started even earlier).
“Anybody with acute respiratory symptoms (cough, sore throat, runny nose, cold symptoms, flu-like symptoms) can get tested,” Prof Murphy said.
“We’re pretty confident that most of them will be negative, but this will give us a really broad reach of what we call passive surveillance.”
Prof Murphy said the National Cabinet is also exploring “active surveillance mechanisms” to test frontline workers who don’t have symptoms, as well as a sample of the general population.
“National Cabinet is very clear that they want to be absolutely confident before relaxing any measures, that we are in a position in this country to detect any community transmission of any significance,” he said.
TWEET @sclark_melbs CMO Brendan Murphy says that from today all states and territories will test ANYONE with respiratory symptoms
Will Australia experience what’s happening in the US?
The United States has recorded more than 47,000 coronavirus deaths to date.
The PM and CMO were asked today if we could see something similar in Australia — but Professor Murphy said everything that can be done will be done to avoid that happening.
“That’s why we’re putting in place the world’s best testing and public health and surveillance regime before we relax any measures,” he said.
“No Australian wants to see hundreds of people dying a day from coronavirus.
“I can’t be 100 per cent sure. We don’t know everything about this virus. But I can tell you we’re going to be as prepared as we can to prevent that happening.”
Also in the US, Donald Trump recently made some comments about the potential of using a “tremendous hit” of ultraviolet light and disinfectant to kill coronavirus — even going so far as to inject them into the body.
Prof Murphy warned against those suggestions at this stage.
“I would caution against the injection of disinfection [sic],” he said.
“They could be quite toxic to people. I wasn’t privy to his comments, so I want to be very careful about commenting on something that I didn’t hear myself.
“And ultraviolet light, look, I don’t know the context in which he said it, so I really would need to study it before I could comment.”
What you need to know about coronavirus: