The National Cabinet meeting did not decide on lifting at least some of coronavirus restrictions for Australia, and they will remain in tact for at least another four weeks.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison had initially told Australians that the battle would last for six months. “I have always considered the six months, the period in which we have been operating and will operate these lifeline measures in the economy, which is JobSeeker with the JobSeeker supplement, and JobKeeper, they will run for the 6-months period, we have bought that time to find the road out,” he said, however also added that “social distancing” practices would take some time to relax and certainly not before a vaccine is found.
“We would expect that there would be restrictions running over that entire 6-month period but the degree of those and how much they can be relaxed or changed over that period that would depend on the circumstances, the health and economic advice at the time.”
Mr Morrison said that there are three main conditions which need to be in place before restrictions can be eased. These are (1) increased testing; (2) better contact tracing “lifted to an industrial capability” – the trace app is a consent-based model that is not quite ready as the government is “still working through ensuring that it meets the privacy protections”; and (3) the ability to lock down localised areas, including agencies.
Professor Brendan Murphy presented a slide show and explained why restrictions need to be carefully lifted and not just thrown off at once. “Today we have 6457 cases. Unfortunately 63 people have lost their lives due to COVID-19. We’ve got 42 people still on ventilators across the country. We’ve got to remember that there are some people who suffered greatly with this disease. As the PM said our numbers are looking very encouraging at the moment,” he said.
“But as the PM has said, if we relax the distancing measures that are stopping or reducing that community transmission, that will inevitably lead to some more outbreaks of community transmission.”
The federal government is pushing for a return to on-site learning. “Teachers are more at risk in the staff room than they are in the classroom when it comes to how the health advice plays out,” Mr Morrison said.
“That means that we need to have proper arrangements in place for teachers and other staff in schools obviously to protect their work environment, but at the same time that doesn’t lead to the same rules applying for students because they have a different level of risk.”
The national cabinet agreed on a set of seven “national principles” for school education. These are as follows:
1. Our schools are critical to the delivery of high quality education for students and to give our children the best possible start in life. Our education systems are based on the recognition that education is best delivered by professional teachers to students in the classroom on a school campus.
2. It is accepted that during the Covid-19 crisis, alternative flexible, remote delivery of education services may be needed.
3. Our schools must be healthy and safe environments for students, teachers and other staff to ensure the effective and efficient delivery of education to students.
4. State and territory governments and non-government sector authorities are responsible for managing and making operational decisions for their school systems respectively, subject to compliance with relevant funding agreements with the Commonwealth.
5. Decisions regarding the response to Covid-19 in the schooling sector must continue to be informed by expert, official, national and state-based public health and education advice, consistent with these national principles.
6. All students must continue to be supported by their school to ensure participation in quality education during the Covid-19 crisis.
7. The health advice consistently provided by the AHPPC is that attendance at a school campus for education represents a very low risk to students.
“In relation to my own kids, I want my kids to go back to school and be taught in a classroom by a teacher,” Mr Morrison said.
Mr Morrison also said that election promises would need to be “reconsidered” in a post-COVID world.
“On the other side of this virus and leading on the way out we are going to have to have economic policy measures that are going to have to be very progrowth, that is going to enable businesses to employ people, that will enable businesses to invest and businesses to move forward,” he said, adding that there will need to be a “revitalisation of the private sector economy” which would mean policy setting in both the state and federal levels.
“Our government sees business at the centre of the economy. We do not see government as the centre of the economy.”
Mr Morrison said that he is concerned about the “debt and deficit” but that Australians can “take some comfort and confidence” that the government has dealt with debt and deficit in the past.