The Morrison government must work with its Victorian counterpart to make sure there is no third wave instead of undermining the state’s public health message, a leading expert has warned.
The plea comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison joined Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and other government ministers on Friday in publicly pressuring Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to go “as far as possible” when easing restrictions on Sunday.
UNSW epidemiologist and World Health Organisation coronavirus pandemic adviser Mary-Louise McLaws warned that caving into pressure and easing restrictions as far as some would like might spark a third wave in Victoria.
“If this is rushed we will get a spike like South Korea did,” Professor McLaws told The New Daily.
“Victoria is still not getting [COVID-19] under control and they haven’t since March. But they are doing their level best and everyone should take the pressure off.”
On Friday, Mr Morrison turned up the heat on Mr Andrews saying: “Some 70,000 jobs have been lost in Victoria over the last two months. The impact on the mental health and anxiety of Melburnians, and Victorians more broadly, has been significant.”
But feuding federal and state governments do nothing to help the public health message, Professor McLaws said.
Instead, the public needs politicians to “be bi-partisan” and “be supportive”, she said.
The public needs to know that restrictions being lifted are done with great consideration.”
Victorians will watch with apprehension on Sunday as Mr Andrews announces his revised roadmap, with the five-kilometre movement limit expected to increase to 20 kilometres, but other measures likely stalled.
Community transmission concerns in NSW
Meanwhile, New South Wales recorded five new cases, including one case of community transmission on Friday.
Despite the increase, some restrictions were lifted, with up to 500 people now allowed to attend open-air concerts as long as they stay seated and remain four meters apart.
Restrictions for outdoor dining venues have also been relaxed, allowing one patron per two square metres, as long as venues use an electronic QR code to record patrons’ contact details.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian flagged further easing of restrictions next week, depending on how case numbers go over the weekend.
But the fact NSW has recorded community transmission in a migrant community was ‘concerning’, Professor McLaws said.
“Of great concern is that [COVID-19] has spread into our migrant community which may not be hearing mainstream messaging,” she said.
“We need to go to them and ensure they understand what is happening immediately.”
Pointing to the fact that Melbourne’s top five areas for COVID-19 cases in the second wave – Wyndham, Brimbank, Hume, Whittlesea and Melton – are among the city’s most culturally and linguistically diverse, Professor McLaws said NSW needed to improve messaging to communities to avoid the same.
“You have to go out to the communities,” she said.
“We need to make sure they’re looked after in a pandemic and have a liaison person.”
Tim Tams on arrival for NZ visitors
Although Premier Berejiklian had said NSW was on ‘the verge’ of a second wave last week, New Zealand travellers touched down in NSW on Friday, the opening day of a one-way quarantine-free pathway for visitors from the close neighbour into the state.
There were tears and hugs as loved ones reunited, with many passengers on the flights not tourists but Australians returning home.
They were greeted with huge signs showing the silver fern next to the words ‘we missed you’ as airport staff handed out Tim Tams, gelato and sunscreen as welcome-home gifts.
NSW health minister Brad Hazzard said those coming from New Zealand would be kept separate from other international arrivals at Sydney Airport.
“We welcome our Kiwi friends coming in, but we’re doing it in a very COVID-safe way,” Mr Hazzard said.
Travellers arriving from New Zealand are being screened for symptoms in both countries and are only allowed into NSW if they have spent at least two weeks in NZ first.
It was the first time since March 29 that international travellers were not subjected to the 14-day mandatory hotel quarantine scheme.
Bringing them home
Elsewhere there was more good news for wanna-be returning Aussies as the PM declared there would be a new quarantine facility opening in the Northern Territory that will facilitate 5000 Australians.
Mr Morrison also said ‘mercy flights’ would be arranged for vulnerable citizens stuck overseas in the United Kingdom, South Africa and India.
Individuals will have to pay for their stay in the new NT facility, he said.
“Those who come through will obviously, in the same way that others are paying for their quarantine arrangements, that will be the case there at Howard Springs and that’s at $2500 for an individual and $5000 for a family,” Mr Morrison said.
DFAT will offer interest-free loans to those who can’t afford the flights home, he said.
“The good news is of the … just over 4,000 Australians who … DFAT identified as vulnerable on September 18, just over a quarter of those have now been able to return to Australia, and we’re making very good progress on ensuring that more and more Australians are getting home,” Mr Morrison said.
“And as those places continue to open up at our major points of entry, when we can get, in particular, Melbourne back online, that will make a big difference and we look forward to that happening as soon as that can.”