What must happen before isolation rules can be eased

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia is “many weeks away” from easing current restrictions to combat the coronavirus pandemic but health minister Greg Hunt has outlined the “three elements” that would need to be in place before that occurs.

Mr Morrison told Seven’s Sunrise program this morning that the government was looking into the experience of other countries to ascertain the way forward.

He said Australia had one of the best testing regimes in the world “but it needs to be more”.

“We do not want to see the horror show that we have seen in so many other parts of the world visited upon Australians.”

This morning, there were 6366 recorded cases of COVID-19 in Australia and 61 people have died. The global death toll has passed 115,000 and there are more than 1.8 million known cases of infection, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally. The US is the first country to have recorded more than 20,000 deaths. And a spike in cases in China has authorities there fearing a new outbreak.

Mr Morrison said no country had yet found its way out of the pandemic but that Australia was in a better position than most, “in fact many” countries.

“We want to keep it that way and that means being patient and being careful, and planning and listening to the medical advice and economical advice.”

Mr Hunt, meanwhile, has outlined the three developments required before our social distancing guidelines could be relaxed or lifted.

“One is clear indication that we are suppressing the case numbers in Australia – it could be case numbers, the retransmission rate, that’s all being developed into an assessment protocol,” he said.

“Two is ensuring we have rapid response capability – testing, tracing.

“Third, once those things are achieved, is planning the steps out, which will always be gradual.”

He said Australia had looked at other countries for guidance and that countries that had been “successful” in dealing with coronavirus, including South Korea, Singapore and Japan, had had to reinstate restrictions after easing them.

In other news from around Australia:

  • Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein announced that 1200 hospital staff were quarantined, along with about 4000 household members as health authorities battle a major COVID-19 outbreak in two hospitals in north-west Tasmania after 34 health workers became infected.
  • NSW health authorities identified new hotspots across Greater Sydney and confirmed two more passengers who had been on board the Ruby Princess had died.
  • Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said the state’s curve was flattening, but “fragile”, and has extended the state of emergency for four weeks until midnight on 11 May.

Mr Hunt congratulated Australians for their behaviour over the Easter long weekend, saying that our transport movements were below 13 per cent over Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“ I couldn’t be more impressed, more honoured and more heartened by the work of Australians over the last week and more,” he said.

“We are now seeing consolidation of the flattening of the curve. That doesn’t mean we’re out of our challenge. There could at any time be outbreaks and spikes.”

Chief health officer Brendan Murphy reiterated Mr Hunt’s optimism, saying that we are in a good position but that we must maintain the pressure.

“The scale of measures at the moment are something that we clearly do have to review … but it’s not now, it’s within the next few weeks,” he told ABC radio on Monday.

“I think we need to look at all of the data, look at our preparedness and the national cabinet will be making a lot of decisions about what, if anything, can be relaxed in the coming weeks.”

He said he would be very concerned if social restrictions were relaxed before public hospitals were fully prepared and had enough personal protective equipment.

Are you buoyed by the news that health authorities and the government are optimistic about containment measures?

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