The next rules to be eased in Australia
Restrictions on gathering in outdoor spaces could be the next to ease provided we continue practising social distancing, experts say.
Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, an epidemiologist at UNSW and advisor to the World Health Organisation, said Australia should push for zero coronavirus cases before easing up our strict social distancing rules.
She told news.com.au authorities could then implement a targeted rollout to ease up the rules, starting with public outdoor spaces.
"Particularly in this weather, where you've got lots of wind and sun, it reduces that likelihood of that super-spreading event," she said. "I understand why local governments want to keep the numbers down. But I think parks and beaches, swimming and surfing can be opened up.
"Now, having said that, people going into these areas and coming out, need to still be really mindful to keep giving each other plenty of space. Because it's very easy to go back to being jostled up together."
She said we need to be more cautious with areas where people are confined to tighter spaces. This includes large gatherings inside homes and when catching public transport.
Prof McLaws said the Northern Territory stood out as a region that had taken an "exemplary" approach to easing restrictions, noting that their blueprint for exiting lockdown was an ideal strategy for the rest of the country to follow.
The Northern Territory is the first in the country to significantly wind back its COVID-19 restrictions.
NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner released a detailed road map on Friday, which he called the "road map to the new normal".
The plan will see restrictions gradually lifted every two weeks, starting with outdoor public spaces and limits on religious gatherings, weddings and funerals, followed by reopening cafes, bars and restaurants with two-hour limits, and finally removing those limits.
"That's an exemplary approach," Prof McLaws said. "I've been really impressed with the way that they've been handling this. We could learn from that rollout. None of the other states have been as fortunate as the Northern Territory, but there are areas within each state that have been, so they could be rolling out and the local government areas could make decisions within their local government area."
Travel - both domestic and international - will be off the cards for a while more.
"I can't see us having a glorious Australian adventure for a while because we don't know we've got to zero yet," said Prof McLaws.
Today Australia's leaders will weigh up reopening the New Zealand border along with the shorter-term relaxation of social and economic coronavirus restrictions.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will join Tuesday's national cabinet meeting of federal and state leaders.
Flights are not expected to restart in coming weeks, but trans-Tasman travel is expected to be the first international border to reopen.
Overall, she said that while she's optimistic about Australia's response to the pandemic so far, the focus should be getting to zero rather than minimising the cases.
"I don't want to get to just mitigating small outbreaks," Prof McLaws said. "I think it would be a great opportunity for us to open up that term bubble with New Zealand and have trade and tourism and education between both countries, but I really understand the pressure that that young Australians are under to get back to work. And I'm sure that with a targeted rolling out, and they will be able to."
WHAT HAS THE GOVERNMENT SAID?
Different states and territories have enforced different rules. NSW, for example, eased the limits on household visits starting last weekend, while Victoria continues to clamp down hard.
Deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth said nothing is off the table in terms of easing restrictions.
"We have been asked to present a range of different options across all sections of society," Dr Coatsworth told Today on Monday. "Different sporting restrictions, retail, restaurants - all those things are being considered.
"We will do this in a slow and methodical fashion. That's what has been asked by the government and that's what's been asked of the Australian people."
Queensland has also eased up, allowing people to travel up to 50km from their home, have outdoor picnics and visit national parks.
The easing saw huge crowds gathered on a Gold Coast beach, in scenes that drew condemnation.
Dr Coatsworth said the scenes were "a reminder" that we must maintain social distancing and keep hygiene at an "impeccable standard".
"This is still a pandemic, we need to take this very seriously. We are not immune to COVID-19," he said.
'WE'RE GOING TO BE STRUGGLING FOR YEARS'
Chris Edmond, professor of Economics at the University of Melbourne, said we must endure more restrictions, warning the government that lifting the lockdown too soon could actually leave us worse off.
"What we want to avoid is a 'bang-bang', 'on-off' having to crunch the shutdown again and again, because we kept letting it get out of control because we were too impatient to get back to normal, and end up in some sense taking longer to get back to normal because of that impatience," he told 60 Minutes.
Asked if the economy would ever return to a "pre-pandemic" normal, he said: "The size of the shock is so large that we're going to be struggling for two years to come before we kind of really look at something that could be considered back to normal on the economic front alone."
However, he did note that Australia's economy is in a better position than almost any other country in the world. "And the point is now that we're in that relatively fortuitous position, to be really, really careful not to blow it."
Originally published as The next rules to be eased in Australia