Some coronavirus restrictions set to ease: Who’s doing what?
Governments around Australia are enacting or investigating plans to relax lockdown measures, as the country takes its first tentative steps on the road out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Restrictions on gathering sizes, leisure activities, travel and some businesses are expected to ease in many parts of the country in the coming weeks.
Emboldened by Australia’s dropping coronavirus case numbers, leaders in Western Australia, New South Wales, Queensland and the Northern Territory have all announced or already enacted plans ‘open up’ after weeks of lockdown.
Despite not enforcing social distancing rules as severely as other areas, South Australia will also consider whether measures will be lifted, but Victoria, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory have ruled out making any immediate changes.
Western Australia was the first state to lift stringent lockdown restrictions, with Premier Mark McGowan announcing a ‘cautious relaxation’ of social distancing measures from 27 April after a number of days of recording no new cases.
Queensland has also experienced a number of days with no new cases and will begin to allow family picnics and weekend drives from 2 May, while national parks will reopen and people will also be allowed shop for non-essential items such as clothing and shoes.
Queensland health officials have conducted more than 100,000 COVID-19 tests and the State Government is reportedly considering whether restrictions will be further relaxed in coming weeks – including whether students can return to school.
‘If we keep seeing those really low cases, there’s more of a proposition that more can be open, more contact with students and teachers,’ Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.
‘Everything is on the table.’
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has also announced restrictions will ease from 1 May, despite admitting the number of new cases will inevitably rise as a result.
‘I anticipate that, in May, it won’t just be a handful of new cases we get every day because when you’ve got this increase in activity. Unfortunately you will see a rise in the number of cases,’ Premier Berejiklian, whose state has been Australia’s hardest hit during the pandemic, said.
‘That’s why we took time in April whilst we had those restrictions to beef up health supplies [and] capacity in hospitals to deal with extra cases, but also to learn from the data we’ve had.’
Students in NSW are expected to resume face-to-face schooling from 11 May, and Premier Berejiklian said return-to-school measures could accelerate if the first two weeks go smoothly.
The changes were announced on the same day that NSW recorded its 37th death, Australia’s 85th overall.
When children should return to school remains a contentious issue elsewhere in the country.
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has called for all children to return to school by the end of May, but Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews ruled out loosening any restrictions before the state of emergency ends on 11 May and indicated schools are unlikely to open before the end of term two (29 June).
‘We believe the right thing to do is keep the kids home at the moment unless you simply can’t,’ Premier Andrews told ABC Melbourne.
‘I won’t be lectured on looking after disadvantaged kids. We have supported and we will continue to support every student across our state, in the pandemic and well beyond.
‘I simply don’t accept this notion that kids are being left behind. We are doing everything we possibly can, in, can I say, unprecedented times.’
Victorian Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton has not ruled out changing his advice during term two, but Premier Andrews has said he wants 100,000 people tested for COVID-19 in the next two weeks before a decision is made.
Meanwhile, Australian Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy has said he would like to see fewer than 20 new cases of coronavirus each week before the nation starts easing restrictions on a larger scale.
‘Even if we release restrictions in the future, people need to change the way they interact permanently,’ Professor Murphy said.
However, Professor Murphy added that confidence should increase if testing is expanded to include people without symptoms and contact tracing is increased. More than two million Australians have so far downloaded the new RACGP-endorsed COVIDSafe contact tracing app within the first day of its release.
As of 3.00 pm 27 April, Australia had recorded 6720 coronavirus cases, of which more than 5500 have recovered. Of the 1100 active cases, 113 were in hospital, with 43 in intensive care.
State and territory breakdown of planned changes to coronavirus restrictions
AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY
- The ACT is unlikely to lift any restrictions in the near-term
- Two-person public gathering limits are in force, but households are allowed up to two additional guests, as long as there is still at least four square metres per person indoors
NEW SOUTH WALES
- NSW will ease gathering restrictions from Friday 1 May
- A maximum of two adults and their children will be permitted to visit others in their homes
- Bondi and Bronte beaches have reopened for exercise only, while Tamarama beach is only open for locals
- Students will return to classrooms by mid-term following a staged return during the first fortnight
- Parks and reserves will reopen this weekend
- National parks will be for the May Day long weekend for camping, swimming and hiking
- Cafes and gyms are expected to reopen in June, but under strict rules
- The NT’s border restrictions will likely be among the last measures to be lifted
- Stay-at-home restrictions to ease from Saturday 2 May
- Family picnics and weekend drives are allowed, national parks will reopen and people can shop for clothing and shoes
- Citizens must stay within 50 km of their homes, and social distancing will still be enforced
- People from the same household can go out together, while those who live alone can spend time with one other person
- No change to schools until at least Friday 15 May, with students continuing to learn remotely where possible
- SA health officials are looking at which restrictions can be lifted after a fifth consecutive day of no new coronavirus cases
- Social distancing rules must still be followed, and gatherings with fewer than 10 people indoors must abide by the one person per four square metres rules
- Students returned to schools on Monday 27 April, despite plans to initially conduct term two remotely
- Tasmania will not follow the lead of other states in easing social restrictions
- Restrictions closing non-essential retail in the north-west of the state have been pushed back to at least Sunday 3 May
- Most Tasmanian students began term two remotely on Tuesday April 27, but schools in the north-west will open a week later
- Coronavirus restrictions to be reassessed on Monday 11 May, when the state of emergency ends
- Coronavirus restrictions were eased from Monday 27 April
- There is a two-person limit on non-work activities, including picnics, boating, hiking, camping
- Group exercise eased from two to 10 people, provided they adhere to social distancing and good hygiene
- Weddings and funerals can have up to 10 people present
- In real estate, open houses and display villages permitted, but records must be kept of everyone who enters a home
- Public schools will return from holidays on Wednesday 29 April, but parents can choose whether or not to send their children
- Remote learning packages will be provided to students who remain at home
- Border restrictions dividing the state into nine regions between residents cannot move without ‘good reason’, remain in place
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.