Three states are relaxing their physical distancing measures this week but Chief Minister Andrew Barr says no announcements will be made regarding lockdown restrictions in the ACT until National Cabinet meets on Friday (1 May).
Unlocking state and territory economies was not a race, Mr Barr told reporters on Tuesday morning (28 April), stressing that many states peeling back physical distancing requirements were repealing measures that were never in place in the ACT.
Mr Barr’s retort came after neighbouring NSW said two adults would be allowed to visit another home from Friday, prompting questions over whether the ACT would also loosen restrictions.
“It is important to note that jurisdictions that have moved already are really just releasing restrictions that were never put in place in the ACT, so a lot of them are just getting to the point that we have always been at,” Mr Barr said.
“No such restriction has ever been in place in the ACT. We never applied one, so NSW is catching up with us in that regard if you want to view this as a football competition or a race, but it is not.
“This is about public health and safety and cementing the gains we have made.”
The Chief Minister and ACT Health have consistently warned Canberrans against complacency over our decreasing COVID-19 figures after the territory’s most recent update reduced the number of active cases to two – a 95 per cent recovery rate.
“There is no prize for being the first to then have an outbreak and a cluster in the school system. That would, frankly, be devastating,” Mr Barr said.
“All it takes is one person to get us back to square one and undo everything that 425,000 people have been working to achieve over the last month, that is how fragile the situation is.
“One wedding in NSW – 35 cases. One bloody cruise ship and you can see the results of that. We still have to be cautious and we still have to be careful.”
If the strict imposition of the World Health Organisation’s criteria of two complete infection cycles (28 days) without a new case were the sole criterion for easing COVID-19 measures, no baseline lockdown measures would be removed for another month, Mr Barr said.
However, this would not be the case.
“If we apply that very strict standard then we are talking about the end of May where you would get to a position where you would have a considerable level of confidence about this,” he said.
“We are likely to move ahead of that, [but] we are taking this carefully in a considered way as we gradually release restrictions.”
National Cabinet will meet on Friday to discuss the progress being made on the four touted requirements before lockdown measures could be eased.
The four requirements include better contact tracing capabilities, scaling up of the healthcare system, a large increase in testing, and take up of the Government’s new coronavirus tracing app.
The app would need to be downloaded and installed by around 40 to 50 per cent of Australians for it to be effective in tracing and shutting down any local transmission of the virus, according to Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy.
While some Australians are concerned about their privacy and the security of their data, Mr Barr said that although he was initially skeptical, all of his security concerns have been addressed by the National Cabinet and he has since downloaded the app.
Further easement of current national baseline restrictions and an appropriate timeline over which they can occur will be on the agenda this Friday. In the meantime, Mr Barr says he will continue to listen to expert advice and not make any decisions on a whim because of any announcements other states make.
“People can look forward to, providing we stay on the current trajectory, the relaxation of some of the restrictions that are in place at the national baseline level,” he said.
“By the end of this week, I hope to be in a position to make further announcements in relation to the restrictions that are in place.”