PM announces three-step plan to lift lockdown by July
PRIME Minister Scott Morrison will shortly outline the pathway out of coronavirus lockdown following today's national cabinet meeting with state and territory leaders.
Australia will get a three-stage plan for easing restrictions but states and territories will change gears at different paces, with each to get the final say on how quickly they move through the stages based on the status of the disease.
Australia has now recorded nearly 6900 cases of COVID-19, with 3047 in New South Wales, 1468 in Victoria, 1045 in Queensland, 438 in South Australia, 552 in Western Australia, 224 in Tasmania, 107 in the Australian Capital Territory and 30 in the Northern Territory.
The death toll stands at 97.
Reviewing every three weeks
The impact of each restriction being lifted will be reviewed every three weeks, Scott Morrison says, while stressing that the three-step is "like the emu and the kangaroo, they go forward, not backwards".
"That's how this has to work," the Prime Minister said.
"Premiers and chief ministers are very keen to ensure that you continue to move forward. Basically we'll go around the grounds of the premiers and the chief ministers and ask them how it's going."
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They will look at health data but also economic data.
"I mean, they're not formal reviews," Mr Morrison added.
"They're just - I'd describe it more as stock-takes as to where the framework is at and looking at where all the states are and how we're going towards our ultimate aspiration of being there in July."
JobKeeper could end early
Mr Morrison says there's no guarantee the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme will run for the full six months until September as originally planned.
"I can give them the certainty that I want them to be back in their jobs, where they don't need it," he said.
"That's what we want. I mean, people don't want to be on JobKeeper and JobSeeker. They want to be in a job that's paying them. And that's what this plan is about, not to keep people on income support from the taxpayer, but to have a wage that's provided by a business that's successful and earning again and going forward and creating a strong economy. That's what the lifeline is for, to get people to that point. That's what we're aiming towards."
The three stages, explained
Step one will "enable greater connection with friends and family, allowing gatherings up to 10 people, and five guests in your own home", Mr Morrison says.
Working from home will be encouraged. Children will be back in classrooms and playgrounds. Golf is back, pools reopened, fitness bootcamps allowed in parks.
Retail and small cafes and restaurants reopened, and interstate recreational travel will be allowed. Funerals can have up to 30 attendees outdoors, and weddings 10.
Step two will allow larger gatherings up to 20 people, including for venues such as cinemas and galleries, "more retail openings on sector-based COVID-safe plans, organised community sport, beauty parlours, and you'll be pleased to know, barre classes open once again".
Step three will allowing gatherings up to 100 people. "This will become clearer as we move through the first two steps," Mr 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."
Pubs and clubs in stage three
Unfortunately, pubs and clubs likely won't fully reopen until stage three.
Seated restaurants in pubs and clubs could start in stage one under the 10-person limit but "they may well not", chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said, noting "that would be a pretty small restaurant".
"Similarly in step two, they can still do seated dining," he said.
"The general view is that, with the exception of the Northern Territory, which is moving forward more quickly, that it will be level three before bars, nightclub-type venues and gaming-type venues without seated dining would be open."
Plan for 'COVID-safe' economy
Mr Morrison says national cabinet has agreed to the three-step plan to move towards a "COVID-safe economy and society" by July.
"In this plan, we walk before we run," he said.
"We know we need to be careful to preserve our gains, if we wish to reclaim the ground we lost, we cannot be too timid. There will be risks. There will be challenges. There will be outbreaks, there will be more cases, there will be set backs. Not everything will go to plan."
'Important we hold our nerve'
You can "stay under the doona forever and you'll never face any danger", Scott Morrison says, "but we've gotta get out from under the doona at some time".
"If not now, when?" he said.
Mr Morrison says it's "important we hold our nerve" and that states and territories don't snap back into lockdown if cases suddenly spike.
'We are winning': PM speaks
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says "we've been fighting the virus and we are winning".
"Today, we move ahead with reopening our economy and our society, with a clear plan, and a clear framework, that shows Australians the road ahead," he said.
PM to speak at 12.30pm
Scott Morrison is expected to hold a media conference at 12.30pm after the national cabinet meeting.
The Prime Minister will announce details about the easing of social distancing guidelines, although each state and territory will move at their own pace.
Three-stage plan to reopening
Australia will get a three-stage plan for easing coronavirus restrictions with states and territories to change gears at different paces.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is chairing a meeting with state and territory leaders on Friday to discuss the plan to ease pandemic-induced shutdown measures.
States will get the final say on how quickly they move through the stages based on the status of the disease.
NSW and Victoria have signalled a cautious approach with outbreaks active in a nursing home and abattoir respectively.
Ahead of the meeting, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said national cabinet would be provided with advice on the next batch of rule changes.
"At least it gives all Australians a vision of the nature of the restrictions that are going to be eased and what's likely to happen next," she told reporters in Sydney on Friday.
WA is at the other end of the scale with low infection rates and hard border closures giving the state a better starting point to take the next steps.
Premier Mark McGowan said he expected national cabinet to provide baseline restrictions for states to work within.
"Clearly Western Australia has the opportunity to be more economically progressive than other states," he told reporters in Perth.
States are expected to unveil plans giving residents more detail from Sunday onwards.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton confirmed the path out of shutdown measures would be a three-stage process giving premiers and chief ministers discretion.
He said the NT could afford to be more aggressive in reopening its economy, while Victoria was at a different point because of the meatworks outbreak.
"There are good reasons for premiers to be making these decisions," Mr Dutton told Sky News.
The senior federal cabinet minister said containing outbreaks would be crucial to making sure restrictions didn't have to be reapplied.
"We want to get people back to work," Mr Dutton said.
"We want to get their restaurants and small businesses reopened and these are important steps that will be discussed today."
Queensland is allowing groups of five to visit other houses from Mother's Day, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk framing it as a reward for achieving good infection results.
There have been 97 deaths from coronavirus in Australia, while more than 6000 of the 6897 people infected have recovered.
- Matt Coughlan, AAP
13 new cases in Victoria
Victoria has recorded another 13 coronavirus cases overnight, with eight of those connected to the Cedar Meats outbreak.
That brings the total number of cases connected to the abattoir to 71.
There have been five additional cases of community transmission, Police Minister Lisa Neville said, while the number of active cases now stands at 117.
Rules bring 'record low flu rates'
Early-season flu is at record lows in Australia thanks to improved hygiene and social distancing, says a leading public health advocate who wants these practices to continue after COVID-19 dissipates.
The latest report by the Department of Health-backed Australian FluTracking Team shows just 0.2 per cent of nearly 75,000 participants in its online survey last week had influenza-like illness.
That compares with a five-year average above 1.5 per cent for the same time of year.
As governments ease coronavirus-related restrictions, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy has said Australians need t learn from the experience after previously becoming "a bit relaxed about hygiene".
Public Health Association of Australia chief executive Terry Slevin says while it was always known regular, thorough handwashing and social distancing could prevent flu and related transmissions, often the focus had been on vaccines and finding cures.
"Rates of flu have gone through the floor. Record low rates at the moment demonstrate the benefits of the kind of things we've been doing, driven by the COVID pandemic," he told AAP on Tuesday.
"It makes sense as we come out of this that we review what we've learnt. I expect we'll come to the realisation that we do need to refocus on some of those very basic public health measures, and hygiene and distance are two very obvious examples."
Professor Slevin said it would be "madness to go back to business as usual" and he believed stickers would remain on retail floors after the pandemic so people continue keeping their distance from each other.
But University of NSW social scientist Dr Holly Seale warns bad habits may return as the coronavirus threat recedes.
"Hand hygiene was pretty sub-optimal at the best of times," Dr Seale told AAP, citing past surveys showing about 30 or 40 per cent of people didn't wash their hands after using public toilets.
"How much people adhere to best hygiene practices beyond COVID-19 is yet to be determined and compliance may depend on whether you feel at risk or if an infection will have severe consequences for you."
She said more people were already "out and about" after reassessing the risk to their health.
Professor Murphy made his comments about hygiene when asked on Sunday about precautions recommended by the Australian Institute of Sport for sport to resume and if, for example, cricketers should use saliva to shine the ball.
"Even when the coronavirus is gone, that will have influences on influenza, colds, all sorts - gastro, all of those things," he said.
"So I don't think saliva to shine cricket balls is a good thing at all."
Among measures needed for "rebooting sport in a COVID-19 environment", the AIS bans sharing drink bottles or towels and deals with footballers' traditional methods of clearing their airways.
"Spitting and clearing of nasal/respiratory secretions on ovals or other sport settings must be strongly discouraged," it says.
Dr Seale said those "sort of behaviours are obvious ones to cut out".
And if Prof Slevin has his way, the "Wuhan shake" (foot tap) or elbow bump may replace the handshake forever.
Hand-shaking was a social practice that evolved over the ages from each party showing they "weren't carrying knives and going to stab each other" and - along with kissing on the cheek as a greeting - was not vital.
"Can we find a new way of achieving the same effect without the health risk?" he said.
- Nick Brown, AAP
Confusion over meatworks outbreak
The owners of the Melbourne abattoir linked to 62 coroanvirus cases say they still don't know the identity of the first worker who tested positive on April 2.
The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has not provided the employee's name to Cedar Meats or labour hire firm Labour Solutions due to privacy, The Australian reports.
Premier Daniel Andrews said yesterday officials carrying out contact tracing took the man "on face value" when he said he had not attended work for four weeks prior to his diagnosis - but the abattoir owners have been unable to verify that claim.
"We don't know who that worker is," a Cedar Meats spokeswoman told The Australian.
A spokesman for Labour Solutions backed that account, telling the paper, "For privacy reasons, DHHS don't tell us exactly who's been diagnosed. We get a rough idea because our employees get entitlements for sick leave and annual leave and some have put in for sick leave, but we'd never heard of the April 2 case until it came out in the media this week and we don't know who the person is."
One new case in WA
The number of active coronavirus cases in Western Australia has fallen to single digits for the first time, as the state turns its focus to reopening the economy.
But the state has ended its long streak with no new cases after a 29-year-old man who returned from overseas tested positive. The man is currently in hotel quarantine.
"We now have just nine active cases here in Western Australia - the first time we have hit single digits," Premier Mark McGowan said.
"Only four people are in hospital in total, with one in ICU. The number of people in our hospitals with the virus continues to fall. That is very pleasing and I am sure fantastic for those individuals and their families."
Mr McGowan said WA was now in the "best position to come out of this pandemic crisis". "Nearly two weeks ago we moved first and began easing some of WA's stage three restrictions, we led the way increasing limit from gatherings from two to 10 people," he said.
"Back then, we were focused more on the social aspects of our lives and, as a result of this success, we now have some confidence to take further steps. This time the focus will be more heavily on the West Australian economy - how can we get our economy going again? How can we started the process of getting people back to work?"
Mr McGowan said these were "difficult questions" and 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".
"I expect our roadmap to be finalised and ready for release on Sunday," he said. "That way everyone can see the way forward for Western Australia out of this crisis."
No new cases in QLD
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says there have been no new cases in the last 24 hours.
The number of active cases in the state has fallen by five to 45. The total remains at 1045, with 994 patients recovered.
Rules that could change today
Australia is set to become the envy of the world as it outlines a road map to freedom on Friday including how cafes and restaurants could reopen in the COVID-19 era.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state premiers will convene for a national cabinet today to outline a framework that the states can tailor to their individual circumstances.
Increasing the number of people who can gather at households to 10 people is one measure that will be considered, allowing children's birthday parties to resume, but the pace of how quickly the changes will be rolled out will be left to the states.
As each measure is rolled out it will be given several weeks to settle in and test whether it triggers a new spike in cases.
ATO pauses super claims
The tax office is pausing applications for early access to superannuation after instances of identity fraud were detected.
More than 1.2 million Australians have applied to withdraw nearly $10 billion from their super accounts during the coronavirus pandemic.
But federal police fear up to 150 people have lost $120,000 due to identity theft.
Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar said claims to early super would be frozen while the alleged frauds were investigated.
"Today we will undertake that process just to make sure there is nothing more that the ATO could do," he told Sky News on Friday.
What you can and can't do this weekend
Prime Minister Scott Morrison may lift some virus measures today, but here's what the current rules will mean for your Mother's Day celebrations this weekend:
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has announced household groups of five people can pay a visit to another home from this Sunday, as long as everyone keeps a 1.5m distance from one another.
Family members also have permission to travel more than 50km from home to visit their families this Sunday - as long as they simply go to their family and return home, not detouring into the community or to shopping centres.
NEW SOUTH WALES
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said social distancing restrictions are unlikely to be eased by Sunday.
However, two adults and their dependant children can now visit another household at any time around NSW.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews won't be budging on the state's tight lockdown measures.
"Everyone wants to be with their mum, but let's be really cautious, let's be really careful not to be spreading the virus. We've come a long way and we can't give that all back," he said.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr has hinted some restrictions could be eased soon.
"Smaller family gatherings and smaller gatherings outdoors … are relatively low-risk in an environment where there are no active cases in the ACT for a two-week period," Mr Barr said, the ABC reports.
So gathering in the park this Sunday is fine - but maybe don't have the entire family over for a meal.
Northern Territorians are allowed to gather with as many as 10 people, as long as they keep a distance of 1.5m.
Visiting parks and camping, outdoor gatherings, non-contact outdoor sports and exercising and training outdoors are all allowed again.
Western Australians have been warned to continue to maintain social distancing measures, especially during this weekend's Mother's Day celebrations.
Under the state's measures which were relaxed last week, the two-person limit on non-work activities has been increased to 10, providing people adhere to social distancing and good hygiene.
Picnics, boating, hiking, camping and group exercise are also now allowed.
South Australia is yet to announce a relaxation of restrictions.
Under current laws, it's possible to gather with as many as 10 people as long as you keep a distance of 1.5m, and chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier has given her blessing for families to gather this Sunday.
Premier Peter Gutwein will be outlining Tasmania's road map out of restrictions after today's National Cabinet meeting.
Border measures to continue
Chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy says border measures will not be relaxed any time soon.
"We're not looking at the border measures (as part of the three-step plan)," he said, noting that two thirds of cases have been from returning travellers.
"We're not going to relax any of our border measures soon and we're going to continue to quarantine all returning travellers because this virus is certainly in a much worse position in many other countries from which our citizens are returning."
Trans-Tasman travel will be considered in stage three, however, as will exemptions for international students and travel to Pacific Islands.
"There (are) a lot of steps to work through, but we're open to everything pretty much to get the Australian economy back and firing again as much as possible," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
"We've just got to step through it carefully."
States to have last word on easing restrictions
Scott Morrison's push to ease coronavirus restrictions could face resistance from state and territory leaders who hold the ultimate power to reopen society.
The Prime Minister has raised the prospects of easing restrictions after today's National Cabinet meeting, but not all states share his optimism.
NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, which have all battled outbreaks, are signalling no major changes to restrictions this weekend. But Queensland has announced family groups of five can visit other homes from Sunday, which is Mother's Day.
The Northern Territory has moved fastest to lift restrictions while WA and SA allow gatherings of up to 10 people, with further relaxations expected.
Mr Morrison has said he won't prejudge premiers' decisions, noting the states are in charge of restrictions.
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton says the prime minister would try to shape decisions of state and territory leaders.
"If we're being honest, I think the federal government would like things to be back to normal a bit quicker and businesses to reopen," he told 2GB radio on Thursday.
"The states obviously have control of state schools and many of the decisions around the shopping centres and all that."
Today's National Cabinet meeting will decide on a "three-step framework" for various industries and sectors to make a staged return to normal, having received detailed medical advice.
The endgame is establishing a coronavirus-safe economy by July.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said state governments would make decisions about relaxing restrictions based on their circumstances.
"What we hope comes out of national cabinet … and what I expect, is a clear roadmap out, with clear stages," he said in Melbourne.
He said national standards would be set, with states given the power to switch between the different stages of restrictions.
Originally published as States to have last word on restrictions