'Why wait until Monday?': Confusion following new health advice on mass gatherings

Scott Morrison speaks during the Meeting of the Council of Australian Governments Friday, March 13, 2020 Source: AAP

Some Australians have been left confused by the details of new advice aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19.

New advice issued by the Federal Government aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus has prompted a wave of confusion online.

On Friday, the Federal Government advised that all "non-essential, organised gatherings" of 500 people or more be cancelled as Australia grapples with the COVID-19 outbreak.

The announcement, which came on the advice of Australia's chief medical officer Brendan Murphy, does not apply to schools, universities or public transport, and does not come into effect until Monday.

The details left many people on social media puzzled, including former Labor leader Bill Shorten, who asked on Twitter: “Why is the Prime Minister waiting until Monday?”.

Asked about the timing of the restrictions starting on Monday, Professor Murphy said that was his recommendation and it could have been "one or two days either side".

Adam Kamradt-Scott, an infectious disease expert at the University of Sydney’s Centre for International Security Studies, said it was “a little unusual” the government did not bring the new measures into effect immediately.

“If they think that this is so important, then normally you would think the advice would be effective immediately,” he said.

“Perhaps they’re trying to provide time for organisations to get the word out about cancelling events. “

“But again, if these measures are considered so essential, then I think it is sending a confusing message that they are not recommended as of this afternoon.”

Scott Morrison attends a Cronulla Sharks away game against the Canberra Raiders.
Scott Morrison attends a Cronulla Sharks away game against the Canberra Raiders.

Mr Morrison said he still planned to attend a rugby league match this weekend involving his team, the Cronulla Sharks.

"I do still plan to go to the football on Saturday," he said.

"[The new measures are] an arrangement we are putting in place for next week as a precaution. This is an early-stage action that we are undertaking to make sure we get ahead of this."

People on social media also pointed out the Hillsong Church in Sydney – whose founder Brian Houston is a friend of Mr Morrison’s – is this weekend hosting the second weekend of the Colour Conference, an annual forum that thousands of people attend.

Mr Morrison, a member of the popular Horizon Church in Sydney’s south, said faith leaders across the country would likely have to introduce measures to ensure their services remain under 500 people.

“Now, I know, because I go to one of those churches where a lot of people go along, I suspect they will do something common sense like hold multiple services at different periods of time,” he said.

Mr Kamradt-Scott said the definition of what constitutes "non-essential, organised gatherings" would also likely cause further confusion about the new measures.

“I suspect what it will generate is a lot more questions as to why this doesn’t apply more broadly to any event of location that involves people gathering in 500 or more," he said.

“It seems [authorities] have acted a little precipitously. There are questions that people will ask: What about shopping centres or movie theatres?”

Events that have already been cancelled in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak include the F1 Grand Prix in Melbourne and Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.

Additional reporting by AAP.

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