Explainer: Which social distancing restrictions will be lifted first?

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy and Prime Minister Scott Morrison address the media. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy and Prime Minister Scott Morrison address the media. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

By the end of the week Australians might have an idea as to when pubs will be reopened.

Social distancing guidelines are set to be gradually phased out with national cabinet set to meet on Tuesday and Friday this week to make decisions on how this will happen.

While COVID-19's shadow will still largely loom over our everyday lives a return to some sense of a normal life is not far away.

What restrictions will be eased first? 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has remained tight-lipped about what restrictions would be lifted first.

When asked by reporters last Friday, the Prime Minister said these would be considered by national cabinet at the next two meetings. He would not indicate what restrictions would be eased first as he did not want to "prejudice" discussions with the state and territory leaders.

Mr Morrison has previously indicated he would like to see restaurants and cafes open but has said it would be a long time before Australians could gather in large crowds.

When do social distancing guidelines end?

Again, that is another unknown but social distancing guidelines will start to be eased in the coming weeks.

It is likely social distancing guidelines, in some form, would be in place for a while to come.

When cafes, bars and gyms reopen they will likely have to abide by strict guidelines and restrictions.

"It's not just about whether an activity can be reopened, it's how it can be reopened," Mr Morrison said on Friday.

"The COVID safe economy, the COVID safe environment and society we're going to be living in will be different."

The Prime Minister said on Friday national cabinet would meet to consider the decision on the relaxation of restrictions. It does not necessarily mean guidelines would be eased on Friday.

This decision was originally intended to be discussed at a leaders meeting on May 11, but Mr Morrison said Australians had earned an "early mark".

What is an early mark? 

While people in NSW and the ACT may be familiar with the term, others across Australia may be scratching their heads as to what exactly the term means.

It is a slang term used to describe when permission is given for a person to leave early from school or work.


What are the conditions for the easing of restrictions?  

The Prime Minister said on Friday there were 15 conditions that had to be met in order for restrictions to be eased. Of those, Australians had already met 11.

The conditions were related to public health capacity, surveillance plans and modelling.

Conditions not yet met mostly related to the surveillance of the disease, in particular the uptake of the government's COVIDSafe app.

On Friday, Mr Morrison said "millions more" needed to download the app and likened it to going out in the sun without sunscreen. Another condition that had not yet been met was states and territories having appropriate stock of personal protective equipment.

When will I be able to play weekend sport again? 

Last Friday, national cabinet endorsed a set of national principles for the resumption of sport and recreation activities, which indicates these would be some of the first restrictions to be relaxed.

These principles provide a guideline for a staged return of community and professional sport.

Children's outdoor sport, with strict physical distancing measures, is set to kick off first, as well as activities such as outdoor personal training, boot camps and swimming.

When will NRL, AFL and Super Rugby start again?

The National Rugby League competition is due to commence on May 28, with all teams confirmed to play, following the arrival of the New Zealand Warriors into Australia on Sunday.

A restart date for the AFL has not yet been decided, but reports have suggested a decision on this is set to be made this week.

Super Rugby's return date has also not be confirmed. Given travel restrictions, the league is set to resume with a domestic competition.

Can I visit my elderly grandmother in her aged care home?

Yes, but there are guidelines that need to be followed. At the last meeting, national cabinet also endorsed a draft visitor access code. This code set out guidelines for communication between residents and their family and friends.

Among the guidelines was people should not visit aged care facilities if they have any COVID-19 symptoms and visits should be short but visits to aged care residents who are dying and in their final weeks are allowed to be longer.

The Prime Minister has previously come down hard on aged care facilities which restricted visitor access above and beyond what was required.

I have a sore throat, should I get tested for COVID-19? 

Yes, while previously other criteria had to be met, the government has now enhanced testing capacity and as restrictions begin to be lifted more tests have to happen.

"The most important thing in testing is for everybody who has any respiratory symptoms, cough or a cold or a sore throat or runny nose. Please get tested, it's safe to get tested," Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said on Friday.

"We want everybody who has a cough or a cold or any respiratory symptoms because most people with COVID-19 have mild symptoms, just like a cough or a cold - get tested and don't go to work."

Professor Murphy said people without symptoms would not be tested, despite a small minority in areas where virus clusters had developed.

"There's been a lot of talk about what's called active surveillance, where you test, well asymptomatic people in the community," he said. "Given the current very low positivity in testing, that does not seem to be a very effective way of monitoring this virus."

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This story Which social distancing restrictions will be lifted first? first appeared on The Canberra Times.