Prime Minister Scott Morrison has flagged a post-coronavirus return to travel, socialising in pubs and cafes and watching sport for Australians – but warns other restrictions won’t be as quick to ease.
But Mr Morrison said Australia’s success in flattening COVID-19 infection rates did not mean victory over the pandemic.
“We don’t want to just win the battle against COVID-19 but lose a broader conflict when it comes to the economy and the functioning of our society,” he said on Wednesday.
Just one new case of the virus was detected from unknown sources in Australia in the most recent 24-hour statistical period – the second day in a row with a single case.
The nation’s death toll rose to 89 on Wednesday after a woman in her 80s died in Victoria. However, more than 5600 of the 6741 people diagnosed with coronavirus nationally have recovered.
But the PM sounded a note of caution for millions of Australians looking for a return to pre-pandemic normality.
“If we were to consider our success on COVID-19 as just having a low number of cases, that is not good enough,” he said.
Protections to enable people to return to work and children to return to school were important benchmarks in the battle to restore society.
“Of course there will continue to be additional cases, of course there will be outbreaks – that’s what living with the virus will be like,” he said.
“It won’t be exactly like it was before. I can’t see international travel occurring anytime soon. The risks there are obvious.”
He said New Zealand was the only likely exemption to that – and travel within Australia. Similarly, cafes and pubs might be able to reopen, and sport resume – but without crowds.
“I can’t see them going along to a game for a while, [can’t see] those larger mass gatherings,” Mr Morrison said.
State and territory governments have begun to relax some coronavirus rules, while national cabinet meetings in mid-May loom as crucial to easing further restrictions.
More than 2.8 million people have downloaded and registered for the government’s coronavirus tracing app, COVIDSafe, in less than three days since it was released.
“I would ask for millions and millions and millions more to do the same thing,” he said.
“I would liken it to the fact that if you want to go outside when the sun is shining, you have to put sunscreen on.
“Australians want to return to community sport. If you want to return to a more liberated economy and society, it is important that we get increased numbers of downloads when it comes to the COVIDSafe app.”
“That is Australia’s ticket to a Covid-safe Australia.”
Numbers of people on the dole have skyrocketed, with more than 800,000 applications for the JobSeeker payment processed.
A new mental health coordination plan is due to be delivered to the national cabinet of federal and state leaders next week.
An extra 10 million coronavirus test kits have arrived in Australia, which amounts to about a 20-fold increase in testing capability.
Elsewhere, the federal government is continuing to pressure Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland to drop their commitments to online learning for school students for term two. It has offered private schools a $3.3 billion advance on funding if they agree to have pupils return to classes by the end of May.
Other states have made plans for resuming classroom education – including Western Australia, where term two began on Wednesday.
State and federal leaders will have their next national cabinet meeting on Friday after last week committing to developing guidelines for elite sport.
Debate around when the AFL and NRL should restart their competitions is continuing. The ultimate decision on their return is, however, likely to be guided by government principles.
Mr Morrison said the leagues had to satisfy all health requirements before being given the green light to play.