National Cabinet has signed off on a three-step plan to have Australia largely reopened for business, and returned to a new normal, by July. Federal Treasury has estimated the phased changes will restore 850,000 jobs.
The first step – which aligns with some Queensland changes from this weekend – will allow up to five guests to visit a home with up to five occupants, have people working from home if it is suitable to them and their employer, and see libraries, community centres and playgrounds reopen. Restaurants, cafes and shops will at some point be given the go-ahead to reopen, albeit still subject to social distancing requirements. Up to 10 people will be able to train or exercise together.
Students will be back in classrooms under this step, and Queensland has a plan to do so in stages by the end of June.
This afternoon, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said other aspects of step one would start next Friday at midnight, including dining at restaurants, in pubs and clubs, with restrictions on the number of patrons due to the need for social distancing. Salons will also open, to a maximum of 10 people, and recreational travel for day trips will be extended to 150km from home. Auctions and open homes will also resume.
Regional areas of Queensland where there have been no COVID-19 cases will be allowed more patrons, and a wider arc of recreational travel of up to 500km, in recognition of the reduced risk of infection.
Morrison said this phase of the recovery – described by Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy as cautious and gentle – was also designed to test public health responses. Contact-tracing, including the widespread take-up of the COVIDSafe app, needs to be successful to maintain control of the virus and ensure the health system is not overwhelmed.
“In this plan, we walk before we run, we know we need to be careful to preserve our gains,” Morrison said, with Australia so far keeping the number of cases below 7,000 and with 97 deaths to date.
Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said he was confident in the ability of the state’s health system to respond.
Nationally, the second step will see larger gatherings allowed at home and some community sport, caravan parks and campgrounds reopened, along with gyms, beauty salons, cinemas, galleries and amusement parks. Queensland is due to review its border restrictions at the end of the month but may also allow interstate travel at this point, with Morrison quick to emphasise that it was not part of the national strategy.
Palaszczuk said the staggered changes would provide for a “gradual return to some form of normality in our post-COVID world” with step two allowing further flexibility ahead of the June school holidays.
The third and final step will see gatherings increase to a maximum of 100 people, a return to workplaces, nightclubs, food courts and saunas reopen, and interstate travel resume. This may be as close as Australia gets to normal until a vaccine is developed and distributed.
Morrison acknowledged the increase in anxiety and uncertainty this year, and suggested people had a greater appreciation of good health and well-being and a stronger economy. He was conscious of the need to allow people much-needed support and social connections.
“So many Australians are hurting right now, lives turned upside down, painful separations from their loved ones, livelihoods that they’ve spent a lifetime building stripped away,” Morrison told reporters.
Despite the benefits of lifting bans and easing restrictions, Morrison foreshadowed setbacks and inconsistencies, and backed the states to “move at their own pace”. Progress on the steps will be reviewed every three weeks, and any uncontrolled outbreak would warrant health advice and a possible change in strategy.
“But we cannot allow our fear of going backwards from stopping us going forward,” he said.
Murphy said the infection curve remained flat – recent localised outbreaks were being managed – and six states, including Queensland, had reported several days of zero new cases. He said there would be more cases but Australia was in an internationally enviable position.
International travel restrictions may be eased as part of step three, with National Cabinet to consider cross-Tasman travel, Pacific Island travel, and exemptions for international students.
However, with two-thirds of Australian cases originating overseas, Murphy emphasised “we’re not going to relax any of our border measures soon and we’re going to continue to quarantine all our returning travellers”. Morrison agreed.
Murphy said Australia would have to change its “cavalier attitude” of working while sick, and stay at home, and he hoped everyone had learned to frequently wash their hands.
Morrison said that, beyond July, Australia needed to build confidence and momentum to restore economic growth. He said people on JobKeeper and Jobseeker payments would be among the 850,000 expected to go back to work, and suggested those income support packages would continue to September as planned and with no expanded eligibility criteria.
QUEENSLAND’S ROAD MAP OUT OF LOCKDOWN
STAGE ONE: FROM SATURDAY, MAY 16, 2020
* Gatherings in homes of up to five people from separate households
* Gatherings of up to 10 people at the following locations:
– outdoor, non-contact recreational activity
– personal training
– indoor and outdoor pools
– public spaces and lagoons
– parks, playground equipment, skate parks and outdoor gyms
– hiking in national and state parks
– places of worship and religious ceremonies
– for dining in at restaurants, cafes, pubs, registered and licensed clubs, RSL clubs and hotels
– open homes and auctions
– beauty therapy and nail salons
* Up to 20 people at indoor funerals and 30 at outdoor ones
* Recreational travel for day trips up to 150km from your place of residence
* Retail shopping
* Up to 20 locals can dine in at restaurants, cafes, pubs, registered and licensed clubs, RSL clubs and hotels
* Recreational travel of up to 500km.
STAGE TWO FROM JUNE 13; STAGE THREE FROM JULY 11.
-Additional reporting AAPJump to next article