Virus-busting restrictions on Australians’ way of life appear to be paying off, with states looking to partially reopen schools and hospitals being allowed to perform surgery on children and joint replacements.
The national cabinet on Tuesday decided to gradually resume elective surgeries from April 27 after Australia secured more personal protective equipment and significantly slowed down new coronavirus cases.
“It is the progress on those first two fronts of containment and capacity which allow us to take these steps on the road to recovery through greater freedoms and opportunities for elective surgery,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
He said the less than one per cent growth in COVID-19 cases for nine consecutive days, and an average of less than half a per cent growth over the past three days, had been a “collective national achievement”.
The government has secured 60 million protective masks and has another 100 million on the way over the next six weeks. In addition, the goal of 7500 ventilators has been achieved.
The resumption of elective surgeries and IVF, and the move towards regular schooling, are the first steps towards easing broader restrictions on travel and business.
NSW has announced plans for slowly bringing children back into classrooms, starting with one day a week from May 11.
South Australian schools will be back to normal from Monday although the government accepts many parents will still choose to keep children at home.
And West Australian authorities are strongly urging year 11 and 12 students to head back to campus.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the current baseline level of restrictions would be in place for at least four weeks, while Essential Research polling has found the majority of Australians surveyed believe it’s currently too early to think about easing restrictions.
Leaders want to have steadily low levels of transmission, and greater testing and tracing capabilities in place before any easing happens.
But those states that have gone further than the national baseline – such as WA, which has put in place tough border closures – may return to that basic level of restrictions in coming weeks.
Mr Morrison also urged aged care homes that have implemented tougher rules on visitors than recommended, or outright bans, to ease back.
“We are already on the road back and I think we already have reached a turning point on these issues provided we can keep the controls in place to keep the virus under management.”
There have been 71 coronavirus deaths across the nation, with more than 6600 cases detected.
But with nearly 4700 recovered, Australia has dropped below 2000 active cases for the first time since March 23.
Australia’s low mortality and high testing rates are among the world’s best.
The federal government said the lifting of restrictions will depend in part on the community downloading a new app to help trace the people coronavirus patients have been in close contact with.
There are strong privacy concerns but the government is hoping two in five Australians will install the app.
“I’d much sooner download an app than two months from now, be lying in an ICU bed, be lying in a palliative care bed, and wondering why I didn’t download an app,” Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said.
The crisis has claimed its first major corporate scalp, with Virgin Australia going into voluntary administration on Tuesday.
The move puts about 16,000 jobs at risk as the airline seeks a way to restructure.
Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has warned Australia’s economy will likely shrink by 10 per cent by the middle of the year and unemployment rise to 10 per cent.
The central bank predicts the jobless rate will stay above six per cent for a couple of years through a long, slow recovery.
Originally published as Elective surgery set to resume next week