Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) advice to National Cabinet on 24 March 2020
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National Cabinet has asked AHPPC for advice on options for the progressive scale up of social distancing measures in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. There was a specific request to look at stronger measures in relation to non-essential gatherings initially, followed by consideration of further more intense options.
There has been significant further growth in cases, still with substantial numbers of returned travellers and small community outbreaks associated with travellers. Cases of locally acquired disease with no link to returned travel or a confirmed case are starting to occur in specific geographic regions. The severe disease and death rate remain very low, but the test positivity rate is increasing. Weddings and religious services continue to feature in transmission events.
Clarification of current measures
In the advice provided on 22 March 2020, the list of indoor gatherings recommended for closure was prepared with the intention of further refinement. The National Cabinet provided some clarification and asked AHPPC to consider, as a first step, any additional gatherings, the exclusion of which was inconsistent with the principles and approach of closing non-essential gatherings, including outdoor gatherings.
AHPPC recommended a strong general statement be made by Governments on the need to limit all unnecessary personal interactions, for people to stay at home when not engaged in employment, necessary shopping or individual outdoor exercise.
AHPPC considered some specific options provided by jurisdictions and agreed that the original list of indoor gatherings that could close should include:
- All galleries, museums and libraries.
- All auction houses, real estate auctions and open house inspections (excluding private inspections).
- Organised meetings for social, educational or recreational purposes (for example Rotary, mothers’ groups, U3A, study groups). Domestic and family violence and drug and alcohol support groups are able to continue as they are part of the health portfolio and considered essential.
- All health clubs, fitness centres, yoga, barre and spin facilities, saunas, bathhouses and wellness centres.
- Amusement parks, arcades and play centres.
- Gaming or gambling venues not currently covered by the casino or licensed venue restrictions.
- All brothels and sex on premises venues.
- Strong recommendation to limit unnecessary visitors to private homes, including private events in homes.
- Implementation of the 1 person per 4 square metre rule in all shops and businesses remaining open (customer limit, which must be displayed on a sign) with enhanced cleaning provisions in place.
- Clarification that funerals with fewer than 10 people in attendance at any one time (adhering to the 1 person per 4 square metre rule) may proceed. Weddings may proceed with only the couple, the celebrant and witnesses present.
- Clarification that places of worship should be closed.
- We note that we have previously recommended moving universities to online platforms, and employing social distancing practices of 1 person per 4 square metre rule). Consideration should be given to closing student residential accommodation.
- Highly discretional services that require close and prolonged personal contact between the service provider and client, including beauty therapy, nail salons, massage parlours, body piercing services and tattoo parlours. Hair dressing is excluded but contact should be less than 30 minutes and the salon should observe the 1 person per 4 sq metre occupancy rule.
AHPPC noted that current restrictions exist prohibiting gatherings of more than 500 people. The strong imposition of the restriction of the population density measure of no more than 1 person per 4 square metres of ground area is required as is the strong communication of the general principles of social distancing.
AHPPC recommends the cessation of outdoor gatherings, with a limit of no more than 10 persons in a related group in an outdoor gathering. This will entail the closing of funfairs and fetes.
AHHPC further recommends closing all organised sporting events, including outdoor sport and swimming pools.
Additional measures in a next stage of more intense social distancing
AHPPC noted that the new restrictive social distancing measures have only just been introduced and that the border measures and enhancing quarantining provisions for returned travellers are also recent. It is too early to assess the impact of current social distancing measures.
AHPPC noted there remains scope for more aggressive contact tracing and enforcement of quarantine for contacts; this is in progress and is of equal importance to the social distancing measures.
Whilst clarification and enhancement of the existing measures (which address the highest risk gatherings) are important, additional, materially more disruptive measures, should ideally be held in reserve until some assessment of the initial measures is possible.
The next step, if required, is likely to be a carefully considered closure of all activity except essential industries and services.
All states and territories are in agreement with the above position, except Victoria, who expressed the desire for even stronger measures at this time.