Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Friday a timeline for Australia to ease social distancing restrictions as the number of new coronavirus infections slows.
After the National Cabinet meeting of state and territory leaders, Morrison told reporters he wants to reopen the economy in three steps.
“Step one will enable greater connection with friends and family, allowing gatherings up to 10 people, and five guests in your own home,” he said.
“Retail and small cafes and restaurants reopening. Intrastate recreational travel, starting again. It will see easing of restrictions for funerals with up to 30 attendees, outdoors, and 10 at Weddings.”
Morrison also confirmed he’d like to see schools open, golfers on the green and swimming pools reopened as part of stage one.
“Step one is tentative, baby steps into normalisation,” said Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy. “If everything goes well, we don’t have big outbreaks, step two could be more confident.”
Australia in March imposed strict social distancing restrictions, which coupled with the closure of its borders is widely believed to have drastically slowed the number of new COVID-19 infections. There is fewer than 20 new infections each day across the nation.
The timeline is more of a dream goal for the government rather than a cement deadline and the PM acknowledged state and territory leaders will set their own dates to start each stage.
“The pace, though, will totally be up to the states and territories,” he said.
“They’ll be responsible for setting their own timetable and communicating that to their citizens and residents in their own states and territories.”
“Will allow larger size gatherings up to 20 people, including for venues such as cinemas and galleries, more retail opening, organised community sport, and beauty parlours,” the PM said.
Stage three will look at allowing gatherings up to 100 people - depending on the data.
“This will become clearer as we move through the first two steps. So there will be more work to do on step three,” Morrison said.
“But most workers, by then, will be back in the workplace. Interstate travel will likely resume. Pubs and clubs with some restrictions will be open. And also possibly gaming venues allowing gatherings up to 100 people.”
Although the measures have successfully prevented local hospitals being swamped by coronavirus patients, it has taken a devastating toll on the economy, which is on course for its first recession in 30 years.
Unemployment is expected to top 10% this year and the Reserve Bank of Australia expects GDP to slump 6% during 2020, a decline that Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said is costing the country $4 billion each week.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said the state must stick to its guns regarding strict coronavirus measures.
“There are parts of the world that let off restrictions very early – they thought they had beaten it, turned out they hadn’t,” he said.
“They now have even stricter lockdowns in place than they ever had, before they let their frustrations get the better of them, perhaps, and changed the settings.”
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said people will start to feel like things are getting “back to normal” by June or even the end of May but would not lift group gathering restrictions anytime soon.
“I want to manage expectations and say if National Cabinet does suggest easing of restrictions, they won’t be able to be made in time for Mother’s Day,” she told reporters on Thursday adding that it would be a “very disappointing Mother’s Day for people in NSW.”
In NSW, two adults and their children can visit another household. There is no limit on how far people may travel to visit loved ones.
“Of course that can happen multiple times a day as long as everybody is careful,” Berejiklian said.
Australia has had fewer than 7,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Fewer than 800 people are still sick with COVID-19, though 97 people have died from the virus.
Smaller States Already Easing Restrictions
Queensland households are allowed from Sunday to have five visitors per household, Annastacia Palaszczuk confirmed this week.
The Northern Territory’s Chief Minister Michael Gunner has encouraged people to support local businesses with a “beer and a parmie” as they aim to bounce back from the coronavirus crisis.
“That is my challenge to all Territorians now,” he told media on Thursday.
The Northern Territory’s plan is to ease social distancing restrictions in three phases.
Social gathering limitations for non-contact sport, weddings and funerals have already been lifted, while restrictions on restaurants and pubs will be eased in mid-May and all remaining restrictions removed on June 5.
“There is no successful exit plan so far in the world for how to come out of lockdown,” said Gunner.
“I think we are doing it. We saw Territorians tick the box last weekend with the first stage. Now we are coming to the second stage. From our conversations with businesses and Territorians, I think we will do that well, too. Then we will go on to the third stage. I believe we can provide a road map out.”
WA Premier Mark McGowan has credited the state’s hard border control and regional restrictions for reducing the spread of the virus.
McGowan said he would release a plan on Sunday to get WA’s economy moving again.
“WA’s approach to easing restrictions and getting our lives back to normal will always be done through the lens of what is safe for the health of our citizens,” he said.