Australia’s success in suppressing the coronavirus has placed the country among an elite group of nations that acted quickly to flatten the curve.
The global club of coronavirus champions called ‘First Movers COVID Group’ includes Denmark, Norway, Greece, the Czech Republic, Israel and Singapore.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with members via videoconference on Thursday night and swapped notes while also discussing the importance of carefully reopening economies.
The hook-up came ahead of Friday’s crucial national cabinet meeting in which the federal government and states will plot a roadmap to easing restrictions and enabling Australians to resume normal life.
A three-stage plan is expected to include lifting bans on outdoor gatherings, considering intrastate travel and getting kids back to school.
Mr Morrison will chair the meeting but states get the final say on what measures might be eased as they take their own steps to offering some freedoms.
Australia is being hailed overseas as one of the safest places on earth.
It has the second-lowest number of infections in the new COVID club behind Greece which is already moving to revive tourism by reopening its ancient sites, including the Acropolis, this month.
On Friday morning Greece had 2678 infections and 148 deaths followed by Australia (6897 infections, 97 deaths), Norway (7996 infections, 216 deaths), Czech Republic (8002 infections, 269 deaths), Denmark (10,281 infections, 514 deaths), Austria (15,752 infections, 609 deaths), Israel (16,346 infections, 239 deaths) and Singapore (20,939 infections, 20 deaths).
The club founder Austria was one of the standout countries in dealing with the virus, with the European nation one of the first to go into lockdown and then reverse its restrictions.
At the end of the meeting, Mr Morrison thanked Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz for hosting the discussion which included reopening schools, how to manage localised outbreaks, the importance of rigorous tracing and testing, and scientific co-operation.
The other leaders said they were aware of the quick uptake of Australia’s CovidSAFE app which has been downloaded by more than 5 million people since April 26.
Mr Morrison has frequently hailed the work of Singapore and borrowed its idea of a mobile phone app TraceTogether to more effectively allow health “detectives” to trace the contacts of people who have the virus.
The prime minister has been lobbying global leaders to support a motion to go to the World Health Assembly in mid-May calling for an investigation into COVID-19, to enable a better response to future pandemics.
The leaders will meet again next week.
Roadmap to freedom
States will have the last say on easing restrictions when federal and state leaders meet on Friday to plot a way out of the pandemic.
National cabinet is expected to devise a three-stage plan to ease restrictions in response to the squashing of infection rates across the country.
But Victoria is retaining the most hardline approach, while NSW has signalled it will also move cautiously, with outbreaks in those two states still active.
Queensland is allowing groups of five to visit other houses from Mother’s Day, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk framing it as a reward for achieving good infection results.
The NT, WA and SA are among the least restrictive jurisdictions, while Tasmania and the ACT are yet to wind rules back significantly.
Leaders are facing the delicate balance between saving livelihoods and protecting lives.
National Australia Bank believes unemployment has reached 11 per cent based on one million people having unemployment claims processed.
But there are also fears of a second infection wave when restrictions are lifted.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Mr Morrison and state premiers were trying to strike the right settings.
“Ultimately, we want to take the advice of the medical officers as well as frankly of the Reserve Bank governor, the secretary of Treasury and others,” he told 2GB.
“Having no cases but people literally watching their lives collapse around them if they’ve got a small business, for example – that is not the outcome we want.”
Victorian abattoir ‘model example’
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has applauded the state government’s handling of the abattoir coronavirus cluster as a “model example”.
Another 13 cases of coronavirus were linked on Thursday to Cedar Meats in Melbourne’s west, bringing the cluster total to 62.
They were among 14 new infections in Victoria, taking the state’s total to 1454, around 100 of which are active.
Mr Andrews was quick to hose down attacks over his government’s handling of the cluster.
“This has been a model example … of dealing with an outbreak,” he said on Thursday.
The fresh cases at the facility in Melbourne’s west include seven infected workers and six of their close contacts.
A worker tested positive to COVID-19 on April 2 and the workplace wasn’t regarded as an exposure site because the employee had told health officials they hadn’t been there for weeks.
Among those infected connected to Cedar Meats is a healthcare worker at Sunshine Hospital, who was exposed when an employee came in after cutting their hand at work and before they tested positive to the virus on April 26.
Another 24 workers at the hospital remain in quarantine.
A worker at Doutta Galla Aged Care in Footscray who was in close contact with an abattoir worker was also confirmed as positive on Wednesday.
A Marcellin College student has been confirmed as one of the positive cases linked to the abattoir.
Aged care Royal Commission considers outbreak
The operator of a coronavirus-plagued nursing home in Sydney has agreed to new conditions imposed by the federal aged care commissioner, including that it appoint an independent adviser.
The Anglicare-run Newmarch House has appointed Andrew Kinkade as an external adviser for three months and agreed to the other demands of the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
A royal commission into aged care will also look at the impact of the coronavirus, including deaths at nursing homes.
The commission on Wednesday wrote to Anglicare stating there was “an immediate and severe risk to the health, safety and wellbeing of care recipients” at the home where 16 residents infected with COVID-19 have died.
Thirty-two staff members and 37 residents have contracted the virus so far.
Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said 25 aged care homes across Australia have recorded COVID-19 cases and most had managed well.
Labor aged care spokeswoman Julie Collins welcomed the royal commission’s examination of Newmarch House but argued it should have happened sooner.