News Coronavirus Heath Minister Greg Hunt outlines how we will ease restrictions

Heath Minister Greg Hunt outlines how we will ease restrictions

Social distancing, major closures and continued 14-day quarantines will remain for weeks to come. Photo: Getty
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Health Minister Greg Hunt has outlined the three developments required in Australia before the nation’s strict social distancing guidelines could be lifted.

Mr Hunt said while Australia’s rate of infection was promising, it was “too soon to make changes” to social distancing and other restrictions.

He said the focus was on consolidating the containment phase of the virus and working toward its “effective eradication”.

Mr Hunt’s comments came as up to 5000 Tasmanian hospital staff and their households have been ordered to spend the next two weeks in quarantine, and as Australia’s death toll from the coronavirus rises to 61.

Speaking to reporters, the Health Minister said Australia was “currently on the road through [the outbreak], but at the same time we’re planning the road out”.

Mr Hunt said the way out of self-isolation restrictions would depend on  “three elements”.

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

“Two is ensuring we have rapid response capability – testing, tracing. Thirdly, once those things are achieved, is planning the steps out, which will always be gradual.”

Mr Hunt warned that countries who have been successful in dealing with coronavirus, including South Korea, Singapore and Japan, had eased restrictions only to have to raise them again.

“We want to ensure the more we do now, the greater our ability to manage in the future,” he said.

Tasmanian quarantine

Tasmanian premier Peter Gutwein announced on Monday that 1200 hospital staff would be 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.

“Never before has a premier had to ask a community to do this,” Mr Gutwein said.

“I’ve got to admit, the responsibility rests heavy on me in having to make these decisions. But I would ask that you work with us.

“This is the best way that we can get on top of this, that we can stop the spread of this insidious disease.”

The North West Regional Hospital and North West Private Hospital in Burnie closed at 7am, with patients being transferred elsewhere.

The latest lockdown comes as NSW health authorities identify new hotspots across Greater Sydney and China records a spike in coronavirus cases, fearing a new outbreak.

NSW Health confirmed two more passengers on board the ill-fated Ruby Princess cruise ship, which has been linked to hundreds of COVID-19 cases nationwide, have died.

The state recorded nine new cases of coronavirus in the past 24 hours, taking the total confirmed cases to 2863.

NSW Health acting director Dr Christine Selvey said authorities urged people in areas where it’s unknown how people became infected with COVID-19 to get tested even if they have mild symptoms.

Responding to restrictions ‘magnificently’

A lone rollerblader exercising at Bondi Beach on Easter Sunday. Photo: AAP

Mr Hunt said Australians have “responded magnificently” to the new restrictions and social distancing measures announced three weeks ago.

“Australians have done what we hoped and more. They have stayed at home, they have self-isolated,” he said.

“Our transport movements have been 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.

“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.

“We are getting through this. I believe absolutely that we will get through this.”

So far, there have been 6325 confirmed cases of COVID-19 around Australia with 61 deaths and 3141 patients totally recovering from the virus. There are 239 people in hospital with 81 of those in ICU. Of those, 35 are ventilated.

Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy says we are in a good position in the fight against the coronavirus but 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.”

The low number of new infections could be due in part to less testing over Easter.

Looking forward, Professor Murphy said he would be very concerned if social restrictions were relaxed before public hospitals were fully prepared and the country had enough personal protective equipment.

“The thing that worries us most at the moment is complacency,” he said.

“Every single community transmission that’s undetected can infect a lot of people, and that’s why it is so important that we do maintain measures for the time being.”

Victoria’s curve ‘fragile’ but flattening

Uruguay evacuated 112 Australians and New Zealanders from a cruise ship anchored off the South American country’s coast with more than half its passengers and crew infected. Photo: AAP

The rate of the coronavirus’ spread in Victoria is slowing, but Premier Daniel Andrews warned against complacency or relaxing social distancing rules too early as hundreds of return travellers from New Delhi, Cambodia, Peru and Uruguay remained in quarantine.

“Essentially, much like yesterday and recent days, we’re seeing some stability in our numbers in terms of the number of additional cases,” he said on Monday.

He said 13 people tested positive for COVID-19 overnight, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 1281.

It follows just three new cases of the virus on Sunday.

Mr Andrews said Victoria’s curve is flattening “but it is fragile”, noting 122 confirmed cases may have been acquired through community transmission.

“That’s always been our principal concern as we’ve seen less and less people returning from overseas travel,” he said.

On Sunday, the premier extended the current state of emergency for four weeks to midnight on May 11.

It comes as police fined more than 150 people, including six bikies, eight people at a party in St Kilda East and overseas tourists at a short-stay property in Cowes on Phillip Island.

Fourteen people with coronavirus have died in Victoria while the national toll stands at 61.

Some Queenslanders still not getting the message

A return traveller sits it out in a Surfers Paradise hotel for the next 14 days. Photo: AAP

State Disaster Co-ordinator deputy commissioner Steve Gollschewski said police handed out $660,000 worth of infringement fines and turned away 906 vehicles at the border where authorities found the people had no good reason to enter Queensland.

“There are still those people who don’t get the message and do the wrong thing,” he said.

Queensland recorded seven new positive COVID-19 cases, taking the state’s total to 987.

Sunday’s figure was revised to nine and there have been 35 cases over Easter with 13 on Friday, six on Saturday and nine on Sunday.

People are largely following the strict new regulations, but a keen helicopter pilot and about 500 other people have run foul of the rules.

“The fellow with a helicopter who thought it would be OK to fly to an area against the requirements of the directions, not only once but twice,” deputy commissioner Gollschewski said on Monday.

Police issued 496 fines and turned around 906 vehicles at state borders in what they say has been the quietest Easter for a long time.

There have been 364 international arrivals over the weekend and all have gone into quarantine, police say.

In other developments on Monday:

  • The federal government announced an extra $3 million to boost the nationally co-ordinated emergency response to COVID-19
  • Discussions under way for subsidising domestic flights for airlines
  • Resumption in December of international flights not confirmed
  • The NRL restart on May 28 doubtful

-with agencies