Coronavirus restriction relaxation being considered by Australian government

Health Minister Greg Hunt says there are positive signs, but Australia still has a long way to go. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Health Minister Greg Hunt says there are positive signs, but Australia still has a long way to go. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Australia added 96 more cases of coronavirus to the national tally on Wednesday, the first day in three weeks there was fewer than 100 new cases in a 24-hour period.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said there were signs the curve was continuing to flatten in Australia, but also urged people to make choices that could save lives over Easter.

The number of cases in Australia has reached 6068, with 51 deaths from the disease. In the past 24 hours there were approximately 260 people in hospital, 82 of them in intensive care units and 35 on ventilators.

"All of those numbers are down from where they have been at their peak," Mr Hunt said.

"But we've got a long way to go."

While the national cabinet is examining when and how restrictions may be relaxed, the Health Minister said. Australia was in a stage of consolidation and suppression regarding the virus.

"We haven't changed our guidance over the six month period, but where we can take early steps that are safe, then we will obviously look to do that," Mr Hunt said.

"But that's a very careful analysis - we are looking at what is occurring around the world. We are in the fortunate situation of having a ... lower rate than the vast majority of the world per capita, and that means we can look at what is working and what is not working in some countries."

Deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth said the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee was considering whether it was possible to relax some restrictions at the same time as suppressing the virus.

"Our first objective is to save lives here and contain the epidemic while managing the implications on our society," Dr Coatsworth said.

"We've been clear about the timeline. That strategy needs to be very, very nuanced and carefully thought out."

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The government has also moved to commission locally-manufactured ventilators as part of a push to increase the number available in Australia to 7500.

Dr Coatsworth said Australia was working to prevent bottlenecks in accessing intensive care units that had been experienced in Italy, Spain and New York in the United States.

Along with a contract with ResMed to build ventilators, a new contract had been signed with an Australian company, and more than 12,000 registered nurses had signed up for courses to upskill to use ventilators.

Acknowledging the extended periods of social distancing, isolation and the effect of lost jobs and financial uncertainty, the government has also launched a dedicated coronavirus mental health support service through Beyond Blue.

"It is the most human thing for people who might feel isolated, who might be lonely, who might be alone - they might be widowed or separated or simply living by themselves," Mr Hunt said.

"If you can call somebody else and give them the support they need, perhaps do the grocery shopping for them to provide that support ... help somebody with the anxiety they are feeling."

Meanwhile, Australians stranded in Peru, Argentina and South Africa will have the chance to come home on three more coronavirus rescue flights.

The federal government has struck a deal with Qantas on the flights, which are expected to happen in the next week.

A further 280 Australians are on a flight from Peru on Thursday in a separate government-organised rescue.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne says Australia is looking at similar flights from India and The Philippines to bring more citizens home during the global pandemic.

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This story Government considering whether restrictions could be relaxed in virus fight first appeared on The Canberra Times.