Some states have announced the easing of social distancing restrictions, but can Australians be trusted not to abuse the relaxed laws?
Queensland and Western Australia are the latest states to announce eased restrictions, with picnics, leisure shopping, hiking tracks and boating now back on the ‘can-do’ list.
Some council areas in Sydney’s east were open for exercise over the weekend but only between 6am and 9am.
Crowds flocked to the beaches, and images of scenes at Coogee Beach on the weekend show a huge volume of people blatantly ignoring social-distancing guidelines.
While councils were trying to do the right thing in allowing people back onto the beaches, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the public needs to maintain awareness and not treat the beaches like their own personal backyard.
“We also have to be sensible. We know that to keep safe we have to have social distancing,” he said.
“I think the councils are having a very tough time as a result of some selfish individuals who think that beaches are their own personal backyard, as I heard someone say. Well sorry, no they’re not, they’re actually a place that we all share, and we have to share it safely.”
Fencing around beach entry and exit points was put in place to limit numbers, but locals say it merely creates bottlenecks.
Could the relaxed beach restrictions be a litmus test for what might happen when other states ease their social distancing guidelines?
From next weekend, Queensland residents will be allowed to travel up to 50 kilometres, can have picnics, go boating, take a drive and visit re-opened hiking trails, but the Queensland border will remain closed.
Picnics, fishing, boating, hiking and camping will be allowed in Western Australia, but people must comply with travel restrictions.
Ten people will be allowed at weddings, and the 10-person limit remains for funerals.
Despite a steady decline in the number of new cases in Victoria, restrictions are not expected to be eased until at least 11 May, with Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton saying he has no intention of altering social distancing measures prior to state of the emergency ending in two weeks.
“I don’t know what transmission will look like this week or next week, but I think the state of emergency going to May 11 is a nice line-up with the national cabinet process for a real look at changing the restrictions,” he said.
Victoria’s total number of cases is 1349 with 1265 having recovered. The state recorded three new cases on Sunday, and a man in his 90s died from the virus in hospital on Sunday, taking the state’s death toll to 17.
“They [the figures] prove that our physical distancing measures are working, but this is not a time to relax our strong approach,” said chief health officer Brett Sutton.
“This disease can get away from you very quickly as we have seen in cities overseas.”
South Australia has had no new COVID-19 cases for the fourth consecutive day. The state has a total of 438 cases, with only 23 remaining active, including four people in hospital – two in intensive care.
SA’s restrictions will remain in place. The state would be “even more cautious”, said chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier, because so little is known about this coronavirus.
“While a lot has been learnt about the virus, there is still a lot we do not know,” she said.
“This is an ultramarathon and this pandemic is going to be with us for a long time.”
There is optimism in the Northern Territory that more restrictions could be lifted earlier than in other states and territories.
The strict restrictions the NT put in place from the outset have been successful will no new cases since 6 April, and while border restrictions would stay for some time yet, other measures are being assessed.
“It will happen not a moment later than it needs to, and not a moment sooner,” said chief minister Michael Gunner.
A recent outbreak in Tasmania has led to further restrictions being put in place and enforced until at least 3 May. The state’s more general restrictions were due for review on 15 May, but Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said he would now take a more a cautious approach.
“Social distancing will need to occur, businesses will have to change their operating models [until there is a vaccine],” he said.
“It simply won’t be business as usual and I think people understand that.”
The Australian Capital Territory has only seven people infected with COVID-19, and the territory believes it will have that number at zero within the next week or so.
ACT chief minister Andrew Barr said some restrictions might be eased soon, but that bars and restaurants would open when NSW and other states did the same.
“Smaller family gatherings and smaller gatherings outdoors … are relatively low-risk in an environment where there are no active cases in the ACT for a two-week period,” he said.
“Were we to reopen bars and restaurants, but they remained closed in NSW, then we would get quite an influx of people into the territory and that would lead to an increased risk.
“The biggest challenge is if we significantly loosen restrictions and then cases take off again. We may find ourselves having to lock back down, and maybe even more severely.”
While the states may be easing restrictions, and despite infection rates significantly reducing, federal health minister Greg Hunt maintains that the battle against the coronavirus is “not yet won”.
“We have now had an average increase in case numbers of less than one per cent for 15 consecutive days,” he said.
“What we have seen is a sustained and consolidated and now extended flattening of the curve.”
Australia’s number of coronavirus cases was 6711 as of Monday morning, with 5364 having recovered. The national death toll stands at 83.
Do you think Australians can be trusted to be sensible once restrictions are eased?
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