Government announces three step ‘road out’ from restrictions
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced there are three things Australia needs to put in place before the Government can think about easing social distancing measures.
Mr Morrison said the Government was working on finding a "road out" to get the country back to a more normal way of operating, with the most important steps discussed between state and federal leaders in a National Cabinet meeting today.
The first change that needs to happen is expanding the country's coronavirus testing regime beyond what is in place at the moment.
During a press conference this afternoon, Mr Morrison said while we have one of the "most extensive" testing regimes in the world, it needs to be even better.
"We need to do even better than that to make sure that we can have greater confidence that when we move to a lesser restriction environment we can identify any outbreaks very very quickly and respond to them," he said.
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy backed up the PMs comments, saying relaxing restrictions without that updated regime in place could result in an increase in community transmission.
"If we relax the distancing measures that are stopping or reducing that community transmission, that will inevitably lead to some more outbreaks of community transmission," Prof Murphy said.
"Unless we are prepared as a nation to detect those outbreaks really early and get on top of them and control them and isolate the cases and quarantine the contacts, we could end up with large community outbreaks that could lead to situations like we've all seen every night on the nightly news in high-income countries with good health systems like the USA and the UK.
"We can't afford to do relaxation until we have a public health system which is so finely tuned that it can detect and respond to any outbreak."
Prof Murphy said while Australia's Health Protection Principal Committee (HPPC) is keen to see distancing restrictions removed, they are not confident that the public health system is prepared.
"Our public health system is one of the best in the world. But we just have to hold the course while we get ourselves completely ready so that we can live through these next difficult months together," he said.
Mr Morrison said the second step Australia needs to take in easing virus restrictions is increasing our contact tracing capabilities for people who have been confirmed as having COVID-19.
"I want to commend the state governments - this has been the really heavy lifting they have been doing over the last several weeks, and really boosting capability of tracing cases. They are a team of Sherlock Holmes's out there at the moment and they are doing a fantastic job on tracking down these cases," he said.
"We need to lift that to an industrial capability and do that using technology and we need to do that as soon as we possibly can, and we will be needing the support of Australians.
"If we can get that in place, get the tracing capability up from where it is, that will give us more options and Australians more freedom."
The third thing that needs to be done before relaxing restrictions is amping up "local response capability".
Mr Morrison said Australia needs to be able to react quickly if there is an outbreak of the virus to suppress the spread and make sure it doesn't move to other areas.
He used the current outbreak in Tasmania as an example, saying the authorities have been moving very quickly to contain it.
"There will be other outbreaks, and other parts of the country, and in all states and territories, we need that ability to move very fast to be able to lock down an outbreak where it occurs and make sure it does not transmit or broadly within the community," Mr Morrison said.
The PM said if Australia is going to "move to an environment with fewer restrictions then you need these three things in place".
He said the National Cabinet agrees that the next four weeks will be used to get these in place so the country can start easing the rules that have been put in place.
"We want to be very clear with Australians - baseline restrictions we have in place at the moment there are no plans to change those for the next four weeks," Mr Morrison said.