COVID-19 restrictions to stay for at least four more weeks, PM says

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday April 16, 2020

AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Coronavirus restrictions will remain in place for at least four more weeks and Australia’s leaders want to ramp up testing and tracing, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Thursday.

The National Cabinet’s latest meeting centred on “the road to recovery”, including the economic response to the coronavirus pandemic, schools, and health issues, Morrison said. The group of state, territory, and federal government leaders also received “quite extensive briefings” from the governor of the Reserve Bank Philip Lowe, and the Treasury secretary Dr Steven Kennedy.

The PM argued there is a need for three things to be implemented: a more extensive testing regime, a greater tracing capability than we have now that is “lifted to an industrial capability”, and a local response capability — where agencies and authorities work together to stamp out the virus in local areas.

He noted the National Cabinet has agreed to keep the current restrictions in place for at least four weeks until Australia has those three things in place.

“If we are to move to a different phase when it comes to the restrictions we need an even broader testing regime than we have at this point. Now we have one of, if not the most, extensive testing regimes in the world today but we need to do even better than that to ensure that we can have greater confidence that when we move to a lesser restriction environment, then we can have confidence that we’ll be able to identify any outbreaks very, very quickly and respond to them,” he said.

“The second part of that is ensuring that we have an even greater tracing capability than we have now. Now, I want to commend the state governments. This has been the real heavy lifting they have been doing over the last several weeks in really boosting their capability to trace cases. They are a team of Sherlock Holmes’ out there at the moment and they are doing a fantastic job of tracking down these cases. But we need to lift that to an industrial capability and we need to 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.

“The third area is that we need a local response capability. We’re seeing this in part now in north-western Tasmania where we have an outbreak, the Australian Defence Forces, the AUSMAT teams, working together with state authorities have been moving very quickly to contain that outbreak. And there will be other outbreaks in 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 to ensure that it does not transmit more broadly within the community.”

The leaders also agreed on seven principles to be employed in schools across the nation:

  1. Our schools are critical to the delivery of high quality education for students and to give our children the best possible start in life. Our education systems are based on the recognition that education is best delivered by professional teachers to students in the classroom on a school campus,
  2. It is accepted that during the COVID-19 crisis, alternative flexible, remote delivery of education services may be needed,
  3. Our schools must be healthy and safe environments for students, teachers and other staff to ensure the effective and efficient delivery of education to students,
  4. State and territory governments and non-government sector authorities are responsible for managing and making operational decisions for their school systems respectively, subject to compliance with relevant funding agreements with the Commonwealth,
  5. Decisions regarding the response to COVID-19 in the schooling sector must continue to be informed by expert, official, national and state-based public health and education advice, consistent with these national principles,
  6. All students must continue to be supported by their school to ensure participation in quality education during the COVID-19 crisis,
  7. The health advice consistently provided by the AHPPC is that attendance at a school campus for education represents a very low risk to students.

The PM flagged a potential trial week of parliament in May which could lead to a return for parliament sitting regularly, which Morrison said he would raise with Labor leader Anthony Albanese.

“We are well ahead of where we thought we might be at this point, and that would mean that we might be able to — I would say will be able to — having the Parliament meet again on a regular basis, but obviously we just need to trial how that is going to work,” he said.

Elective surgery will be considered at the next National Cabinet meeting on Tuesday.

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