Date published: 
17 May 2020
Media event date: 
16 May 2020
Media type: 
Statement
Audience: 
General public

For millions of Australians, life has become a little bit easier, and returned a little closer to normality, through the first step in the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.

This week, state and territory governments eased restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some have moved faster than others, with decisions based on local conditions.

New South Wales, for instance, has moved to open up playgrounds, and is now allowing up to 10 patrons inside cafes and restaurants – including those attached to pubs and clubs – at any one time, and up to 10 people to congregate at places of worship.

Victoria has taken a more cautious approach, but has similarly eased restrictions around religious gatherings, and is allowing people to leave their homes to visit family and friends.

Relaxing restrictions has been made possible because the overwhelming majority of Australians are doing the right thing by practising good hygiene and physical distancing. It is also due to governments and the health care sector greatly increasing our ability to quickly respond to future outbreaks.

While this is good news, it is very important people do not get overly excited. This is just the next phase in our response to the coronavirus pandemic, and we need to remain vigilant.

Australia has done remarkably well in combatting COVID-19. But other countries that have experienced success and thought they were safely on the right track have suffered major setbacks – Singapore, South Korea and Germany among them.

Singapore was the envy of the world in responding to COVID-19, but not anymore. It has now had to extend its partial lockdown by a month.

Switching restrictions off and on again would come at a significant cost – to our liberty, our livelihoods, our mental health and wellbeing, and our nation’s economy.

The good news is if we act sensibly, and don’t fall into the trap of thinking we can immediately return to life as it was pre-COVID-19, we have reason to be confident we can avoid a resurgence. But everyone has a role to play in this.

It is very important all Australians keep doing all the important things they are doing to prevent the coronavirus spreading.

This is especially so for vulnerable Australians who are at greater risk of more severe illness from COVID-19: people aged 70 and over; people aged 65 and over or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 and over with chronic conditions; and people who are immunocompromised.

Despite everything we are doing, the reality is further outbreaks of COVID-19 will occur in Australia. This won’t mean the measures we have put in place have failed.

In fact, the outbreaks in north-west Tasmania and at the meatworks in Melbourne have shown just how well prepared we have been. We had the capacity to respond quickly, contain these outbreaks, and prevent widespread transmission of the virus.

Our capacity to quickly test, find cases, and isolate and quarantine affected people, gives us the confidence to know we can clamp down on future outbreaks.

To give us even greater confidence on this front, I would encourage anyone who hasn’t done so already to download the COVIDSafe app, which will speed up our ability to contact people who have been exposed to the coronavirus.

We are well on the way to beating COVID-19. But until we have a vaccine, which is still, in all likelihood, many months away, the best way to remain safe is to keep observing the simple safety messages around personal hygiene and physical distancing.

Enjoy – and take advantage of – the easing in restrictions. But don’t become complacent and go overboard.

And if you have symptoms of a fever or a respiratory tract infection, no matter how mild, don’t go to work (or in the case of children, school). Stay at home, contact your GP and arrange to get tested. Now is not the time for “heroes” to go to work if they are unwell.

Hopefully, it will just be a common cold. But please get tested. Until you do, you won’t know if it’s COVID-19.

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