Some of Australia’s coronavirus restrictions will be lifted earlier than expected with state and federal leaders set to make an announcement next Friday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said national cabinet would ease restrictions from then, after bringing forward the decision from May 11.
“Australians have earned an early mark through the work they have done,” he said in Canberra on Friday.
He said a Treasury briefing to Friday’s national cabinet meeting had outline the impact of virus restrictions on the economy.
“We need to restart our economy, we need to restart our society,” he said.
“We can’t keep Australia under the Doona.”
National cabinet will meet twice next week to work through issues ahead of that announcement.
Modelling, extended testing, contact tracing, the health system’s preparation and workplace training were all important in helping to determine what restrictions would ease and when, Mr Morrison said.
He also again urged Australians to sign up for the COVIDSafe tracking app, saying 3.5 million had downloaded it by Friday afternoon.
“Those measures gave us a pretty good tick today,” he said.
“We need our app uptake to be higher before we can say that the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle of contract tracing can be there.”
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said health authorities were confident hospitals, including intensive care units, could cope with potential outbreaks if COVID-19 measures were relaxed.
Elsewhere, Mr Morrison said state governments would make the final call on allowing the AFL and NRL to restart, after advice from Australia’s expert medical panel.
Late on Friday afternoon, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk opened the state’s borders for a May NRL restart, ensuring Brisbane, North Queensland and Gold Coast will not need to move to NSW.
The state’s three NRL clubs will be able to train at their bases, travel interstate, and also host home games.
“The chief health officer advises that the NRL plan is workable,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
NSW Health confirmed nine new coronavirus infections on Friday morning, taking its total cases to 3025.
Worryingly, three of the new cases were from the cluster at Newmarch House, in Sydney’s west.
On Thursday afternoon, a 74-year-old man became the aged-care home’s 13th coronavirus fatality. His death brought Australia’s toll to 93.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian told the ABC the situation at Newmarch House was “horrific” and she has called on the federal government to intervene.
Also on Friday, Mr Morrison announced a $205 million package to help the country’s aged-care facilities manage safe visiting.
ACT eases restrictions
Canberra residents will be allowed to visit friends and family in NSW after the national capital eliminated all known cases of coronavirus.
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr will also allow two adults and their children to visit other households within the territory, and has encouraged retailers to reopen.
“It is OK to go shopping for items outside of what you would find in a supermarket,” Mr Barr said on Friday.
The territory wants public schools to return to face-to-face teaching, but not immediately.
“This is likely to involve a staged return in public schools, beginning with younger children who need more hands-on support for learning and secondary students at key points in their learning journey, such as year seven and year 12,” Mr Barr said.
Although the ACT is loosening some social and business restrictions, he remained concerned about fresh waves of coronavirus infections.
“This virus will continue to circulate around the globe. There’s no immunity, there’s no vaccine,” Mr Barr said.
Victoria confirmed three new coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing its total to 1364.
Premier Daniel Andrews said no new cases were recorded on Friday at the Hawthorn Grange aged-care facility in Melbourne’s inner-east where a cluster had been identified.
There remain three cases at the centre – two residents and a staff member.
The Victorian government has also launched a website – together.vic.gov.au – to showcase live music and comedy performances by local talent, including an online series that will launch on Sunday night.
Creators will also be given access to $2.35 million of grants and partnerships to help produce online content.
Mr Andrews said the project was aimed at making staying home “just that little bit easier”, as temperatures across the state plummeted ahead of winter.
Tasmania ‘under control’
Tasmania will lift a tough lockdown in its north-west as it gets on top of the region’s deadly coronavirus outbreak.
Premier Peter Gutwein said additional restrictions, which forced non-essential retailers to shut and schools to stay closed, would be lifted from Monday.
Thousands of people linked to two Burnie hospitals at the centre of the outbreak were also quarantined. The hospitals were closed for deep cleaning, led by an Australian Defence Force team.
“The outbreak in the north-west is now largely under control,” Mr Gutwein said on Friday.
“We are confident that those additional restrictions … placed on the north-west almost three weeks ago, will be able to lift.”
Of Tasmania’s 221 confirmed coronavirus cases, 147 are in the north-west, including 12 of the 13 deaths.
Queensland’s happy zero
Queensland recorded its fifth day of zero new coronavirus diagnoses Friday, on the eve of lockdown restrictions being eased.
Just eight people in the state have returned a positive test result for the virus in the past week.
The statewide tally remains at 1033 confirmed cases from more than 111,000 tests, with 11 patients in hospital including four in intensive care.
Six Queenslanders have died from coronavirus, 943 patients have recovered and 2715 remain in quarantine.
With non-essential travel permitted effectively from Saturday, parks and picnic grounds are expected to be among prime destinations for many who have endured weeks of lockdown.
Shopping is also allowed and even sitting on a park bench is permitted.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Queenslanders should be proud.
“Thank you so much for that great collective effort and we’re all pitching in, we’re all helping out, and of course this weekend is also really crucial,” she said.