Australia's coronavirus restrictions to be reviewed within weeks as death toll rises

Australia's coronavirus social distancing measures will be reviewed within the next few weeks, Australia's chief medical officer says.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt speaks to media during a press conference.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt speaks to media during a press conference. Source: AAP

Health Minister Greg Hunt says Australia's case fatality rate is "one of the lowest in the world" but cautions "we are not immune from the iron laws of the disease".
 
There are now more than 6300 Australians who have been infected with coronavirus, while the death toll sits at 61 after two deaths were recorded overnight. 
 
While the coronavirus infection curve is flattening - there were only 33 new cases in the past 24 hours - Mr Hunt warns there will be more lives lost and says it's too early to relax social distancing restrictions.
 
"The question was about when social distancing restrictions might ease. The answer is ... it's too soon ... What we want to do now is ... consolidate the containment.
 
"Sadly, there have been and will continue to be the loss of life."
 
Mr Hunt said Australia had one of the broadest testing regimes in the world and the country’s medical professionals had done an extraordinary job during the crisis.
 
 
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said Australia was in a good position in the fight against coronavirus but added it was too early to relax.

"The scale of measures at the moment are something that we clearly do have to review ... but it's not now, it's within the next few weeks," he told ABC radio on Monday.

"I think we need to look at all of the data, look at our preparedness, and the national cabinet will be making a lot of decisions about what if anything can be relaxed in the coming weeks."

Across Australia there are 238 people in hospital after contracting COVID-19, of which 81 are in intensive care and 35 need ventilators. 

The low number of new infections may be due in part to less COVID-19 testing over the long weekend.

Professor Murphy said he would be very concerned if social restrictions were relaxed before public hospitals were fully prepared and the country had enough personal protective equipment.

"The thing that worries us most at the moment is complacency," he said.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy.
Source: AAP

"Every single community transmission that's undetected can infect a lot of people, and that's why it is so important that we do maintain measures for the time being."

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has also warned it would be dangerous and unrealistic to remove social distancing restrictions too soon.

Meanwhile, the federal government is considering subsidising domestic flights for both Qantas and Virgin, who have been hammered by the pandemic.

The Tasmanian government has closed two hospitals at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak involving 49 cases in the state's northwest.

What does it mean to flatten the curve?

All hospital staff and their households - more than 1000 people - will be placed into quarantine for two weeks as a "super clean" of the facilities is undertaken.

In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews has extended a state of emergency by four weeks to May 11.

Some nursing homes have completely banned visits to stop the spread of coronavirus, but Professor Murphy does not agree with that approach.

He said aged care residents should continue welcoming guests, so long as they have no more than two visitors practising social distancing for a short period of time, and not allow children into the facilities.

The federal government has launched contingency measures to ensure older Australians continue to get the care they need during the pandemic.

The measures include new emergency response teams on stand-by if there's a significant outbreak in a residential aged care facility.

There will also be locums to support aged care providers in remote Australia if they are unable to source staff.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus


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Published 13 April 2020 at 10:13am, updated 13 April 2020 at 4:00pm