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Coronavirus restrictions could be derailed if a widespread outbreak happens, Paul Kelly says


It is very unlikely Australia sports fans will be able to pack out stadiums on grand final weekend, even if Australia’s plan to lift restrictions is successful, deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly says.

Yesterday the National Cabinet agreed to a three-step easing of restrictions to take place across the next several months, with the goal of having all states and territories reach the most relaxed “stage three” by July.

But Professor Kelly said stage three, which limits gatherings to 100 people in most circumstances, would be the “new normal”.

“The third step is not quite back to normal as it was before COVID-19, and I think we’ve been quite open about this from the beginning that the new normal, the COVID-safe normal may not be the normal that we were used to prior to January,” he said.

Professor Kelly said that meant large gatherings of people remained unlikely for the foreseeable future.

“There are some iconic moments in Australian sport coming up in that period, the last weekend in September is dear to many of us,” he said.

“I must admit I’m doubtful that we’ll be able to fill the MCG by this time, but let’s see how we go.”

a girl raises a richmond scarf as tigers fans celebrate behind her
Professor Kelly said it was unlikely large crowds would be able to congregate by the AFL grand final at the end of September.(AAP: David Crosling)

Widespread cases could derail restrictions plan

And while the best-case scenario would still leave large gatherings like the AFL grand final unlikely for much of the year, Professor Kelly said there were no guarantees restrictions would lift quickly.

Each change to restrictions is accompanied by a cooling-off period allowing health authorities to monitor changes in infection rates.

The three-step relaxation of rules has been described by the Federal Government as a “roadmap”, but Professor Kelly said it was not set in stone.

“I want to really be clear there are no roadblocks in this roadmap,” he said.

“The only one that we will have, potentially, and this is why we are being cautious about our restart of these various activities, is the virus itself.”

Professor Kelly said a substantial increase in case numbers would be one component that could derail states from moving on to step two.

“More than the actual absolute number, it’s really about where those cases are.

“If we were to see lots of cases around a dispersed geographical area then that would be more concerning really than a specific outbreak like we’re seeing in western Melbourne at the moment.”

Yesterday Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed confidence large outbreaks would not occur as restrictions lifted, but said if they did, states and territories would act on the advice of health officials.

App still not fully operational

While 5.4 million Australians have signed up for the Government’s COVIDSafe tracing app, Professor Kelly said state and territory contact tracers were still not able to use data collected on the app.

All states and territories need to agree to the app and train staff, and Professor Kelly said seven of the eight jurisdictions had done so.

He was not able to say which state or territory had not yet signed up, but said tracing would be fully operational early next week.

“I think it’s just a timing thing,” he said.

“It’s just a timing matter and by Monday everyone will have signed.”

He said while restrictions were beginning to ease across the country, older people should still use particular caution when interacting with others, even on Mother’s Day.

“For elderly mums, just be a little bit cautious, and probably keep that 1.5 metres’ distance for now,” he said.

“I know it’s hard and we all want to cuddle our mums on Mother’s Day … but let’s just wait a little bit longer.”

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