1 May 2020 / COVID-19

National Cabinet Meeting

The PM just addressed the media:

  • There is more than one curve Australia needs to flatten – they don’t want Australia kept “under the doona” in economic terms
  • Australia has 1,000 active cases around the country today
  • Treasury is estimating unemployment rate to rise to 10% - its important that Australians can take confidence that there has been a clear plan to get those supports in place early to ensure that Australia can be cushioned from an even more significant blow that has occurred in many other parts of the world, not just on the health front, but on the economic front as well
  • 1.5 million people have applied for JobSeeker payments with Centrelink
  • 650,000 businesses have applied for JobKeeper with ATO
  • 150,000 applications for early access to super totalling $7.9 billion
  • Net overseas migration expected to fall by a third this year
  • National Cabinet today considered from the expert medical panel advice to bring forward the decision making around easing restrictions to next Friday’s National Cabinet Meeting (with 2 extra meetings between now and then to work through requirements) – there are 15 conditions of precedent required to be satisfied to start easing them, 11 items have already been met, 1 remaining condition in particular that needs to be satisfied – Australians need to download the COVIDSafe app to help (currently 3.5 million downloaded, but need millions more – its like not putting on sunscreen to not go out into the blazing sun – coronavirus is still out there, numbers might be low, if Australians are allowed back out to a more open economy / environment without the COVIDSafe app, we need that tool to open up the economy)
  • If you know someone who hasn’t downloaded the app, encourage them to do so, it will help National Cabinet make decisions around easing restrictions
  • When the move is made to start reducing restrictions, National Cabinet is adamant to keep moving forward – they don’t want start / stop / reverse to happen (because the virus potentially gets another run – it is important that all required protections are in place to prevent this from happening)
  • Other National Cabinet decisions and issues discussed today:
    • The new National Mental Health Plan coming together and hopefully reviewed next Friday
    • National Principles for sport and recreation agreed, it will be released today
    • Also adopted the Aged Care Code – strongly welcomed by the National Cabinet – the Commonwealth will also provide a one off $205M payment to facilities over the country to support them and costs they are incurring as a result of COVID (now totalling $850M put into aged care during COVID)

The Chief Medical Officer’s comments:

  • Total of 6,675 cumulative cases so far in Australia
  • Less than 20 new cases on average per day in Australia
  • 93 deaths so far
  • Extensive testing – 570,000 so far
  • The medical panel has presented the Pandemic Health Intelligence Plan to National Cabinet (which contains a table of conditions precedent) – some areas of criteria that has / still needs to be satisfied is:
    • Surveillance – have a plan, sufficient mechanisms (tracking and identification of outbreaks)
    • Community adherence to public health measures (people are doing what they have said, reducing their mobility and interactions as required)
    • Modelling – prerequisite and important – regularly changing
    • Testing capacity – expansion of testing is important and we have a framework for testing
    • Public health workforce has to be mature and large enough to meet any response (all States / Territories have done well to respond to the situation so much so that they’ve now been able to stand down some expanded workforce for if / when they are needed)
    • Contact tracing capacity had to be really good and is proving to be working with the new methodology – but the COVIDSafe app uptake must continue (it needs to be higher to satisfy the final piece in the jigsaw puzzle)
    • Good health workforce training to prepare the health system and they’re confident this has been done
  • New presentation of data and plans shown (will circulate when released)
  • Pretty convincedly the curve has been flattened
  • Australia is doing better with new case numbers than predicted by the forecast model
  • Effective reproduction rate number is now only really visible in NSW and TAS – falling just below 1 (all other states and territories are so small, the modellers cannot use the data realistically to produce a forecast)
  • New measure for adherence to social distancing measures based on data from Apple and Google using maps / transit info (dramatically dropped – showing good compliance of people following rules)
  • The panel has now introduced the ‘Pandemic Health Intelligence Plan’ to analyse each case (instead of trying to work with the effective reproduction rate which is now too small to use) – thanks to the significant reduction in cases – this new plan now enables each cluster to get a detailed epidemiology assessment on what is happening more closely to see what we need to do control
  • Done a lot of work on the testing strategy – they need to test more people to stay on top of the small outbreaks – cannot afford to have an outbreak that takes off and creates a second wave after restrictions potentially eased
  • Most important thing in testing is anyone who has any respiratory symptoms, runny nose, sore throat, cough cold etc – get tested – it’s easy – can be done by GP etc – don’t go to work and don’t go near vulnerable people
  • Any contact with someone with COVID is now going to be tested and chased down to ensure no potential community transmission
  • Active surveillance – which was the testing of asymptomatic people in the community – given the current, very low positivity in testing, AHPPC doesn’t this this is effective
  • Instead, they are going to introduce “cohort tests” to sample smaller areas of the community to ensure there isn’t asymptomatic transmission (ie testing elective surgery patients etc to ensure no people going into hospitals etc spread it, aged care workers to reassure everyone they aren’t carrying the virus, healthcare workers, teachers if it gives them reassurance etc)
  • Still confident most transmission of the virus is from people with symptoms, so it is imperative anyone with symptoms gets tested
  • Download the app and stick to what the health authorities and government are asking everyone to do

Further PM comments during questions:

  • The Gov’t is not canvassing any particular easing of areas yet – National Cabinet will review all restrictions to ensure health mitigations are in place if reopened and economic opportunities that extent to particular activities – that’s the basis on which the assessment will be made
  • Regardless of the potential easing of restrictions, several other measures will remain for longer – there will continue to be limits on gatherings, social distancing must still be practiced (this is a long-term adjustment everyone has to make) and good hand hygiene will remain something everyone will do for the rest of their lives after this crisis
  • The government knows we need growth related policies to stimulate the economy and boost confidence for businesses and individuals
  • The Gov’t isn’t considering new restrictions – its about getting more people using the COVIDSafe app so there is confidence to relieve existing restrictions

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