The National Cabinet met today to take further decisions to save lives, and to save livelihoods.
The Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy provided an update on the measures underway, the latest data and medical advice in relation to COVID-19.
There are over 6,670 confirmed cases in Australia and sadly 78 people have died.
It is clear that the suppression strategy for the virus is working. National Cabinet again noted data that confirms the measures put in place to suppress the virus have largely been successful in slowing and reversing the growth of cases in Australia, to ensure our health system has the capability to manage the epidemic.
It is estimated that approximately 93 per cent of all symptomatic cases are detected in Australia. Australia has the highest reported detection rate in the world.
Australia’s border and quarantine arrangements have successfully reduced transmission of COVID-19 from overseas arrivals, with the focus now on containing domestic outbreaks in local communities through rapid responses. The infection rate of imported cases is now 99 per cent less than local cases, due to these measures.
Domestic outbreaks if left uncontained have the potential to spread fast and overwhelm local health systems. This highlights the importance of enhanced testing, tracing and rapid containment health responses when outbreaks occur. Domestic transmission of asymptomatic cases and those with mild symptoms is a priority for National Cabinet.
As a next step in our response, National Cabinet agreed to expand testing criteria across Australia to all people with mild symptoms of COVID-19. This will ensure cases are quickly identified.
Further work to plan for enhanced monitoring, testing and tracing is underway through the development of the Pandemic Health Intelligence Plan and an Australian National Disease Surveillance Plan sitting under the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
National Cabinet further passed a motion of condolence to the Victorian police officers killed in the line of service.
National Cabinet agreed to meet again on 1 May 2020.
For COVID-19 suppression strategies to be effective, Reff (the number of people a single case infects on average) needs to be less than 1.0.
The results of the nowcasting pandemic model produced by the University of Melbourne (Doherty Institute) continue to look very encouraging.
National Cabinet received an updated briefing on new modelling with the Reff now below 1.0 across all states and territories, except for Tasmania. Australia’s case detection rate is 93 per cent and projections of case numbers are below lower bound modelled estimates.
The modelling has been refined, reflecting the success in reducing transmission from overseas arrivals and local outbreaks. Without mitigation, local outbreaks have the potential to significantly increase case numbers and overwhelm health systems.
Updated statement on schools
National Cabinet agreed with updated Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) advice on schools.
AHPPC noted that among many measures, smaller class sizes might reduce the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools.
AHPPC does not believe however, that the ‘venue density rule’ of no more than one person per four square metres is appropriate or practical in classrooms or corridors, nor maintaining 1.5 metre between students during classroom activities.
This clarification complements AHPPC’s advice on reducing the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools (published 16 April).
AHPPC continues to note that there is very limited evidence of transmission between children in the school environment and population screening overseas has shown very low incidence of positive cases in school-aged children. In Australia, 2.4 per cent of confirmed cases have been in children aged between 5 and 18 years of age (as at 6am, 22 April 2020). AHPPC believes that adults in the school environment should practice room density measures (such as in staff rooms) given the greater risk of transmission between adults.’
National Cabinet noted the AHPPC advice that wearing of face masks by the general population is not currently recommended. Should significant community transmission in Australia occur, mask wearing in public is an available option.
Aged Care Response
National Cabinet again discussed the outbreaks of COVID-19 in residential aged care facilities and the critical importance of balancing infection prevention and control measures against the needs and best interests of residents.
National Cabinet stressed the AHPPC advice that it is not acceptable for any facility to put in place restrictions beyond the principles agreed on 17 March 2020. These include complete lockdowns or banning all visits from carers and families, other than during a specified facility outbreak.
Facilities are best placed to know the appropriate levels of infection control and prevention to implement, in consultation with the relevant public health units and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. The Commonwealth Government will continue to monitor the situation and will take steps, if necessary, to require facilities to seek an exemption from the Commission before implementing additional restrictions.
Sport and recreational activities
National Cabinet agreed that the AHPPC will develop, for consideration, key principles for the recommencement of community and professional sport, and recreational activities.
National Safe Workplace Principles
National Cabinet agreed to develop nationally-consistent, industry-specific work health and safety guidance on COVID-19, accessible via a central hub provided by Safe Work Australia.
The guidance will be developed and endorsed through Safe Work Australia, working with its members (the Commonwealth, states and territories, employer groups, and unions). The guidance will be housed on a revamped Safe Work Australia website.
Australian workplaces will be able to use this central hub of WHS guidance and tools to help manage health and safety risks posed by COVID-19.
To support the development of nationally-consistent guidance, National Cabinet agreed the ‘National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles’ (Attachment A).
National COVID-19 safe workplace principles
Recognising that the COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency, that all actions in respect of COVID-19 should be founded in expert health advice and that the following principles operate subject to the measures agreed and implemented by Governments through the National Cabinet process
- All workers, regardless of their occupation or how they are engaged, have the right to a healthy and safe working environment.
- The COVID-19 pandemic requires a uniquely focused approach to work health and safety (WHS) as it applies to businesses, workers and others in the workplace.
- To keep our workplaces healthy and safe, businesses must, in consultation with workers, and their representatives, assess the way they work to identify, understand and quantify risks and to implement and review control measures to address those risks.
- As COVID-19 restrictions are gradually relaxed, businesses, workers and other duty holders must work together to adapt and promote safe work practices, consistent with advice from health authorities, to ensure their workplaces are ready for the social distancing and exemplary hygiene measures that will be an important part of the transition.
- Businesses and workers must actively control against the transmission of COVID-19 while at work, consistent with the latest advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, including considering the application of a hierarchy of appropriate controls where relevant.
- Businesses and workers must prepare for the possibility that there will be cases of COVID-19 in the workplace and be ready to respond immediately, appropriately, effectively and efficiently, and consistent with advice from health authorities.
- Existing state and territory jurisdiction of WHS compliance and enforcement remains critical. While acknowledging individual variations across WHS laws mean approaches in different parts of the country may vary, to ensure business and worker confidence, a commitment to a consistent national approach is key, including a commitment to communicating what constitutes best practice in prevention, mitigation and response to the risks presented by COVID-19.
- Safe Work Australia (SWA), through its tripartite membership, will provide a central hub of WHS guidance and tools that Australian workplaces can use to successfully form the basis of their management of health and safety risks posed by COVID-19.
- States and territories ultimately have the role of providing advice, education, compliance and enforcement of WHS and will leverage the use of the SWA central hub in fulfilling their statutory functions.
- The work of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission will complement the work of SWA, jurisdictions and health authorities to support industries more broadly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic appropriately, effectively and safely.
PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon.
National Cabinet today passed a motion of condolence for the four police officers who were killed in Melbourne and to pass on their sincere sympathies to their families and to their friends and their fellow serving officers. The motion also more broadly expressed the National Cabinet's sympathies and support for the broader police family, police officers serving all around the country, and, of course, their family members, for whom this is a devastating reminder of the risks that their serving police officers in their families take each and every day. And the National Cabinet has had to make many important decisions in recent weeks and we're very pleased to receive the recommendation of that motion from the Victorian Premier, and all Premiers, Chief Ministers and myself stand together with the Victorian Government as they seek to support those families and those officers, in particular their fellow serving officers, who continue to go through a time of terrible grief.
At National Cabinet today, there are a number of quite practical issues, as always, that we were dealing with. And in today's presentation, we'll be providing you on the weekly update, on the nowcasting modelling, which is being done on the effective rate of transmission of the coronavirus here in Australia based on the Australian data. Importantly, at National Cabinet today, we were able to note the good progress that has been made. We are obviously familiar with the data itself, but to the good progress that has been made on those core requirements that we are working hard, as governments, across the country to put in place that will enable our road back, by enabling us to be in a position where we can have that confidence to continue to ease restrictions that are in place right across the country. Those areas, in particular, where it's good to receive the reports are the expansion of the testing regimes that are being employed in all states and territories. You would have heard from New South Wales earlier today, and what they're achieving there, but this is occurring right around the country - Tasmania, right around the country. And this is a very important pillar of how we will be dealing with this virus going forward into the future. We already have one of the most, if not most, comprehensive testing regimes in the world, and this is a key, a key tool for us going forward.
Secondly, we're making great progress on the industrialising, automating our contact tracing capability. The app will soon be released. There are still some issues we're working through late in the piece, which is to be expected. We're not too far away now. Earlier this week, as I indicated to you, it received the in-principle support of the National Cabinet and we have been taking that through its final stages in recent days. That will also be an important tool for the country as we seek to manage how we live in a COVID-safe economy and community into the future and the rapid response to individual outbreaks. We should be aware, as a community right across the country, that when we take further steps to ease restrictions, of course, we will continue to see outbreaks. That is to be expected. What matters is being able to move on them quickly, to identify them through both of the measures that I've just mentioned, but also, as we've seen in a very difficult outbreak in north-west Tasmania, and for the resources to come quickly for the further restrictions in those areas to be applied promptly, and so we can get on top of those outbreaks as quickly as we possibly can. Dealing with those outbreaks will be one of the things we will have to live with when we're in a position of having further eased restrictions across the country.
On a couple of quite specific issues, on the wearing of masks, and Brendan Murphy, the Professor, will talk a little bit more about this. But on the wearing of masks, the medical expert panel, we accepted their advice that it is not recommended by the expert panel that they are necessary to be worn, and importantly, it's important to note that the wearing of such a mask does not protect you from an infection, but if you are displaying respiratory symptoms then it is, at best, a measure that prevents you transferring it to others. It's not about protecting you from infection, but that's why, when people are leaving airports and things of that nature, they were wearing it to prevent the transmission.
On schools, confirmation - and this is in the medical expert advice, AHPPC's document being released further today - confirmation that the four square metre rule, and the 1.5m distancing between students during classroom activities is not appropriate and not required. I can't be more clear than that. The advice cannot be more clear than that. The 1.5m in classrooms and the four square metre rule is not a requirement of the expert medical advice in classrooms.
We agreed also to develop national principles for sport and recreation. Those principles would address these issues at three levels. The first, at the elite and professional level. So, the major sporting codes, our Olympic sports, training arrangements that sit around support for those activities by elite sportspeople. Secondly, at the community competitive sport level. That is such an important part of our way of life here in Australia, and the principles that can help guide decisions by states and territories in the future. And, thirdly, at the individual passive level of sport and recreation. Activities from everything from whether it's in the Shire, if you're going surfing, or if you're walking in the local national park, or whatever it might happen to be, those set of principles that states and territories can draw on in terms of getting some consistency across the country as we move into this next phase.
Today, we also agreed National COVID-19 Safe Workplace principles which will be released. This is all about getting Australians back to work, and ensuring that when they go back to work that they and their families can feel safe in going back to work, and to ensure that there are important principles in place, there are protocols and procedures that, should a COVID case present in a workplace, then the rules that people need to follow. The Minister for Industrial Relations has been working closely with the COVID Commission, union representatives and others to ensure we can get very helpful tools in place. That's what we are doing at a federal level and that will draw on these national principles that we have agreed today as part of the National Cabinet.
On aged care, there is a meeting this evening, a webinar, which the Chief Medical Officer and the Minister for Aged Care will be participating in, and National Cabinet has continued to stress its concern about restrictions that are being put in place in aged care facilities, as I noted earlier this week, beyond the baseline requirements of what National Cabinet has agreed, based on the expert medical advice. So, we are flagging, I am flagging very clearly at a federal level, that should we not see an improvement in this area, under the voluntary arrangements that we currently have in place, that the Commonwealth would be moving to require aged care facilities that wish to have an exemption to those national principles, those national arrangements, then they would need to seek authority to do that from the Commonwealth, and we would make such a decision in consultation with the relevant state and territory jurisdiction. Now, there are quite valid reasons why you would have exemptions, particularly as we've seen in north-west Tasmania at the moment, or what we've seen in western Sydney or in other places. That is entirely sensible as to why you would have restrictions that are greater than the national baseline in those circumstances. Totally reasonable. But more broadly, having people stuck in their rooms, not being able to be visited by their loved ones and carers and other support people, that's not Ok. And so let's see how the industry goes with that. We would very much like to keep these things on a basis where aged care facilities are exercising their proper discretion. But we are not going to have these as secret places, where people can't access them. They must. As you know, I initiated the Royal Commission into aged care, and we want to make sure that these facilities are open to their loved ones to be able to go and visit and to continue to go and engage with them, unless there is a very real and serious medical reason why that would not be necessary. So, let's hope that can be worked out, consultatively and cooperatively and that is my hope and expectation.
Finally, there is the nowcasting modelling which the Chief Medical Officer will take you through. And in understanding that modelling, some important points were raised. We've moved through many phases of this virus. The first phase is what I'd call the ‘export phase’. That's when the virus was first exported, transmitted out of China into many countries around the world. And in that first phase, Australia moved very quickly to put in place the restrictions of travel into Australia, and then the excellent work done by, particularly, the Chinese Australian community here meant that Australia was substantively protected from that first export wave of the virus across the world. The second, where Australia was more significantly impacted is what I'd call the ‘repatriation phase’, the repatriation of Australian residents and citizens to Australia, as they returned from many parts of the world where that initial export of the virus into many of those parts of the world, they became exposed to that and they brought it home to Australia. And we saw many, many internationally acquired cases, and more than two-thirds at certain times of the total number of cases in Australia. And that's why we put in place the quarantine arrangements. That's why we put the restrictions in place. We responded to that as a National Cabinet. And you've seen the evidence of those measures, as we've seen the curve flatten and the number of cases additional each day reduced to the levels you're now seeing. We are now in that third phase which we have to protect against. That's the ‘community phase’, that’s where the virus actually moves from within our own community. That requires particularly different tools, building on the ones that we already have in place. And that is the testing, that is the tracing, and that is the rapid response. And in today's modelling, what you'll see is the difference, as you've moved through those different phases. The last set of modelling you saw included all of the impact of the international cases in our data, and both the Chief Medical Officer and I had flagged on earlier occasions that we can't become complacent because of the fall in the number of internationally acquired cases, which has been the predominant drop in the number of cases we've had in Australia. We now have to be wary against community transmission, and so we are dealing with that third wave of the virus.
We will also be then working towards decisions that we have to make over the next few weeks, getting the key data metrics in place as to how we'll make decisions on further easing of restrictions. We are, though, I confirm, seeing states and territories individually waiving various parts of the restrictions they have put in place above the baselines. They're making those announcements almost on a daily basis. We welcome that, whether it's in schools or in other areas, and we can expect to see that happen over the next few weeks. The National Cabinet will meet next Friday again.
And before I hand over to the Chief Medical Officer, I would note, of course, that tomorrow is ANZAC Day. Now, ANZAC Day this year is going to be like none any of us have ever experienced. A time when our normal traditions around Anzac Day will, of course, be interrupted. But in another way, it will be a very special time, because we will have the opportunity to reflect on ANZAC Day perhaps in ways that we haven't before. The Light Up The Dawn initiative tomorrow morning at 6:00am, which follows the national commemorative service at 5:30am from the War Memorial, which will be telecast from around the country, is an opportunity for all of us to gather as our nation remembers its fallen and its heroes and reflects on the great values that sustain them at other times. It was a hundred years ago when Australians returned from the First World War, and on their first Anzac Day in Australia, it was in the middle of the Spanish Flu. And so something very similar to what we will face tomorrow, as we gather together without the parades, but we do so quietly and commemoratively,, and I do think it will be a very special time. And we would ask also, because there isn't the opportunity for so many veterans to get together like they normally would, and it’s a very special time in so many ways for them to catch up with mates, which they do often, but ANZAC Day is special. Let's remember them tomorrow. Make a post. Thank them for their service. Let them know they're all appreciated, much admired, greatly respected. And join in the national effort, I think, for an ANZAC Day which will be one to remember for a very long time. Thank you, Brendan.
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thanks, Prime Minister. So, currently the case tally in Australia is 6,673 cases. 78 people have, unfortunately, died from coronavirus-related disease. Fortunately, the number of people in intensive care units is dropping, only 43 at the moment. Only 29 people on ventilators. So, progressively those numbers have fallen. We know that over 5,000 of the cases have now recovered. As I'll show you later, we're still continuing the same sort of pattern we've seen for the last week, with small numbers of cases every day. The Prime Minister pointed out the risk always of new clusters appearing, and Victoria has reported a small new cluster this morning. So, these will happen and these we have to be incredibly vigilant about as we focus our efforts on suppression, containment over the next few months.
As the PM already also said, we presented to the National Cabinet today advanced versions of what we're calling our ‘pandemic intelligence plan’ and our surveillance plan, our plan to test extensively and make sure that we can detect any of these clusters that might appear over the coming weeks. In particular, National Cabinet was informed today that every single jurisdiction has now - every state and territory - has now broadened their testing criteria from today. Some did it earlier. So that anybody with acute respiratory symptoms - cough, sore throat, runny nose, cold symptoms, flu-like symptoms - can get tested. This will significantly expand the population of people tested. We're pretty confident that most of them will be negative, but this will give us a really broad reach of what we call passive surveillance. But we're also looking at a range of active surveillance mechanisms to test even people without symptoms in a range of front-line occupations and a range of what we call sentinel situations, where we sample the population. National Cabinet is very clear that they want to be absolutely confident before relaxing any measures that we are in a position in this country to detect any community transmission of any significance.
The PM also mentioned the discussion on what we're calling non-medical face masks, the lower-quality masks that a lot of people feel the need to wear in the community. We're saying again that they are not recommended. We have very low case numbers in Australia, and these masks often aren't of particularly good quality, and they often provide a false sense of security and make people not practice the social distancing measures that we want. So, we are not recommending the general community wear masks. We have been saying that consistently through the pandemic.
So, I'll now take you through the modelling presentation. And so this is the usual first slide, showing, as you can see, a pretty steady low number of cases, and that very, very satisfying flattening of the curve. As of 6:00am this morning, only 13 cases reported in the previous 24 hours. The next slide, please. This is the effective reproduction number. Using the modelling that we showed last week. So, it's exactly the same methodology, just extended out another week. And as you can see, ACT and the Northern Territory aren't here because their case numbers are so low that there's no statistical purpose in showing them. So, it should be a mark of pride to not be on this graph for those states. But you can see, interestingly - and I'll show this more on the later slide - there's a broadening of the error margins for each of these things, particularly in states where there are very low case numbers. That's to be expected. When you have very, very few cases, the error margins extend. So, that broadening is exactly what you would expect. But the effective reproduction is the middle of that dark blue line. And you can see that, using the modelling of last week, everyone is below 1, even Tasmania, which had this little outbreak in north-west Tasmania, the middle of the dark blue line is just below 1. But I'll show you later that we are now advancing that modelling to look primarily at those cases that have been transmitted in Australia, and trying to exclude the impact of those repatriated cases that the Prime Minister referred to earlier.
So, that's the modelling on last week's methodology. We'll just show the next slide. This is - before we come to the current modelling on the new method - this is some early work from our modelling team, showing what they would forecast on the data that they've got of the case numbers we would get in Australia. This is new science. This is not very reliable science. They're just developing this, and they're very keen for me to say that this methodology is still being developed and advanced in their hands. But you can see they predicted this sort of pattern, and you can see from the solid bars that, actually, our case numbers are right at the lower end of what they might have predicted in this model. I'll have the next slide. The updated modelling that I'm going to show you now really is changed to account for the new measures we've put in place for returned travellers. Because we are now quarantining formally every return traveller, the opportunity for a return traveller to infect locals is essentially zero. And I have to say again we are so grateful to the states and territories for organising this quarantine, and grateful for those Australian citizens who have put up with two weeks of quarantine to protect their fellow members of the community, and most of them have done so very graciously. They're just pleased to be home in the safest place in the world to be. But up to... So what we've done is now changed this modelling by removing progressively the impact of those return travellers and I'll show it to you on the next slide. And because we have taken out that impact, we see a slightly different pattern. So, I'll show the next slide now. Here you can see, because the case number... We've taken out the impact of return travellers, the error margins are even broader, so it's quite a broad error, with small case numbers at this most recent time point. Again, ACT and the Northern Territory have no cases, or haven't had enough cases to show any data on this slide. And you can see that, as you take out the impact progressively of those return travellers, the lines are a bit more bumpy and they are getting a bit closer to the 1, which is what you'd expect when you're talking about just those cases that have been transmitted in Australia. Now, I'm not saying that they're transmitted from unknown community sources. Many of those cases - and I think all of them in Tasmania - have actually been transmitted from known contacts. But they are still transmitted in Australia. And taking out the return travellers, you can see that the numbers are a little bit closer to 1. Tasmania is slightly over 1, but continuing its very good trend as it gets control of the outbreak in north-west Tasmania. And you can see that, again, with very few cases in some states, you've got a very large error margin. But the middle of the dark blue line in all cases, except Tassie, where it's just over 1, is still below 1.
So, this sort of modelling now, which is dealing only with Australian-acquired cases from now on, is going to be a more reliable and more sensitive way to show our modelling. But what it does tell us is that we are close to 1. We've got to keep it below 1 if we want to… and we have to not be complacent, a message that we have been making time and time again. But we are still in a good place and need to keep a very, very strong vigilance over what we're doing. I think the next slide, I think that's the last one. So, I'll leave it there, thanks, PM.
PRIME MINISTER: Thanks, Brendan. We might, David, why don’t we start with you, if that's alright. Or we can start from Michelle? Work from the front and work to the back, and then start at the back and we'll work to the front.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the question of the app, can you tell us something about the storage of the information? And we know who accesses it, but where it's going to be stored? And if I could be permitted a second question, on the nursing homes, what is the problem here of getting cooperation? Because you sent a very strong message. And is the Government still doing spot checks? Because a lot of families would be worried - not so much about the virus - but whatever else goes on in nursing homes when they're not visiting so much?
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah, those checks are continuing, and all of those regulatory arrangements, they're continuing. I want to assure Australians about that, that the qualifications work and the inspections and so on, they, of course, would continue. But it is important that family members, support people, have the opportunity to visit these facilities as well. The reasons why there's some reluctance, I think, is something to work through with the sector. And so if there is a factor here, we'd be keen to understand what it is. But the very clear medical advice that we have is that these visits are quite safe when they're done in the right circumstances, and it's very important for the health of the residents that they maintain contact with their loved ones and other support people. This is very good for them. And so that's why that's necessary. So, look, my hope is that those matters can be resolved and we can get that cooperation and get it soon, and I'm sure in the webinar this evening there will be opportunities to explore some of those issues. It's not my inclination to prefer that sort of regulatory approach, but if it's necessary, then we'll do it. The server is in Australia and it's using AWS, who work with Australia on many, many sensitive issues in terms of Australia's data management. It's a nationally encrypted data store. It is illegal - it will be illegal - for information to go out of that data store to any other person other than that for whom the whole thing is designed, and that is to support the health worker in the state to be able to undertake the contact tracing, with the data that they access being released by the individual for whom is the subject of the contact tracing.
JOURNALIST: Are you going to download it yourself?
PRIME MINISTER: Of course I am. Absolutely, I am. Are you?
JOURNALIST: Why not.
PRIME MINISTER: Great. Good on you, Michelle.
JOURNALIST: PM, we've still got unions out there, teachers unions, that are, I guess, pushing back against the idea of kids going back into classrooms. What's your message to them, if they're suggesting that the entirety of the next term parents should keep their children at home? When do you think those children should be back in the classroom? And do you have any concerns about the number of children in a classroom?
PRIME MINISTER: Brendan, do you want to speak to that?
PROFESSOR MURPHY: So our advice has been consistent that we don't have evidence of significant infection in children, and, more importantly, we are not seeing evidence of significant transmission amongst children in schools. And the data is increasing in this space. New South Wales Health have just done a very large study looking at some infections that have occurred in the school setting and have tested a lot of children, have not found evidence that children are transmitting this virus in schools. This is quite different from influenza, where we know they are sometimes super spreaders and can spread the virus. So, we think the community risk of having children together in a classroom is low. Most children who have contracted the virus in Australia have contracted it in the family home. They have not contracted it in the school environment. Clearly, school can be a risk for adult-to-adult transmission, from parent to teacher, teacher to teacher, and we have made a range of recommendations of keeping vulnerable teachers out of the school environment, practising good distancing in the staff room, practising good practices when parents bring their children to school. And obviously, some children may carry the virus from time to time, and practising very good hygiene methods across the school. But if we were seeing significant transmission, there have now been a dozen or so school-related cases in New South Wales, some in South Australia, and we have not seen evidence of widespread transmission in schoolchildren, particularly younger schoolchildren, where the risk is perceived by teachers to be even greater. And the international evidence is the same and many countries around the world with much worse epidemiology than we have at the moment that did close their schools are now reopening. And we feel... clearly, we understand the concern, clearly we understand that in some states there's a gradual return, but look, AHPPC advice has not at any stage been that we should close schools.
PRIME MINISTER: Rosie?
JOURNALIST: Professor Murphy, I just wanted to clarify, in terms of small gatherings, do you see there being a national guideline on how those gatherings can be eased? I think most states and territories you can have one or two people outside your household over. Would you see something like five people allowed first and then moving to 10 and 20, a very gradual easing of small gatherings? And on 14-day quarantine in hotels for international return travellers, will that need to be in place in Australia for as long as there's no vaccine?
PROFESSOR MURPHY: Well, on the latter point, potentially. I mean, there may be a situation where a country has effectively eliminated or got very low cases. For example, New Zealand, we might have a situation where it could be relaxed. But if you're coming from a country where there is significant community transmission, I think that the impact... you've seen the graphs. The impact of our quarantine measures on what's happened in Australia has been huge. Clearly, the National Cabinet has asked us to come back with a range of potential recommendations for gently, carefully, cautiously relaxing distancing measures. And, of course, the size of gatherings will be in that mix. But I don't want to pre-empt the decisions of National Cabinet. But we will be making recommendations, similar to those that you're talking about and they'll be coming to National Cabinet. It will be their decision.
PRIME MINISTER: I'd just add to that National Cabinet, as indeed the medical expert panel, have always been very conscious that there are different experiences in different states and territories. In the Northern Territory at the moment, the schools are back 100 per cent. And there is no evidence of any community transmission, as best as we can determine, in the Northern Territory. But that said, I mean, other states, the experience is different. So, there would understandably be some differences. And you're already seeing that. In South Australia, they have never regulated down to two. They have always kept it at 10. And that regulation at two is beyond the baselines, and there are good reasons, have been good reasons for that in places like New South Wales and Victoria. But states and territories will make their own calls over the next few weeks.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the review into the role of the World Health Organization in the pandemic, how do you ultimately see that being conducted? And is there a role for the G20?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, potentially. I think absolutely. And many of the international groups of which Australia forms a part, I mean, we have the opportunity to discuss this on many occasions. I think it's important for us, though, to be aware that here in Australia, with a bit over 6,500 cases, we are in a very different head space to where they are in France or Germany, for that matter, or certainly the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe, where they are in the middle of a devastating crisis well beyond what I think most Australians can even imagine at the moment. And so we need to be mindful about what their priority focus is right now, and, if anything, their need to look at these sorts of reviews is something not immediately, but down the track a bit, is more a reflection of what their more pressing urgency is here and now. Now, I think that does leave it open for Australia and countries like New Zealand and others who are a bit more advanced in where we are in managing the virus, to be able to, I think, think through these issues a bit more, and engage with like-mindeds there, and there are many in the G20 that fall into that category. So these types of changes do take some time. I have been around public life for some period, and certainly in the international sphere things can move very slowly. So, you've got to be patient about this. But I think getting your arguments and particularly getting your proposals fine-tuned is very important, and the G20 provides a good platform for that.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, your Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, has tweeted an attack on Annastacia Palaszczuk, accusing her of being, "running scared of the militant Teachers' Union" in her state, and that's the only reason why schooling hasn't returned to normal. How are those sort of comments helpful at a time when you're trying to have a unified approach?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, look, I'd simply say that Peter, of course, is a Minister in my Government, but he's also a Queenslander. And these are issues that are being debated and addressed in Queensland. And whether you're a local member, a Minister or just any old Queenslander, then you do get to have the right to have a view as a local. And I'm sure that's the context in which Peter's expressed those views.
JOURNALIST: Thank you, Prime Minister. Dr Murphy, are you able to give us a precise, or the latest estimate on the reproduction rate. You say it's below 1. I can't actually see the decimal figure in here. And I do note that it was below 1, according to this data, in mid-March, before the widespread and harsh, economic and business shutdowns came in in late March. Are there some specific individual circumstances unique to Australia, beyond policy, that have enabled us to contain the virus better than most other countries?
PROFESSOR MURPHY: So, I think that we did, there was certainly a significant impact of the border measures that we took in March. So, as I've said on many occasions, we were unusual in Australia in that, you know, as the Prime Minister said, two-thirds of our cases at that stage were imported - from imported cases from returning travellers. So, the border measures did have a very significant impact on the reproductive rate in early March. But there was rising, what we call community transmission with no epidemiological link, particularly in Sydney - those cases that weren't related to any known contact. And you can see, and I could go back and show you the graph if necessary, that there was further flattening after those distancing measures were introduced, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria. But it was below 1. But we were starting to see community transmission. And as we know, and as you saw in the graph in Tasmania, that can take off very quickly. So, those, if we hadn't put those distancing measures, we may have seen it rapidly go above 1 fairly quickly. So, why Australia is in a better position than just about any other country is that, as the Prime Minister was talking about, the exporting phase from China, we uniquely got on top of those cases. We got testing going early. We identified all of those cases. We tested widely, one of the widest testers. And we managed to capture, contain, isolate, quarantine contacts for all of those exported cases. In those countries that have significant problems, they didn't. And they had widespread community transmission before they actually realised they had a problem.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, there will be many businesses who are eligible for the JobKeeper payment because of their collapsed revenues. But unfortunately a lot of the staff in those businesses are paid by a services entity, where that services entity, the revenues haven't dropped, so aren't eligible for JobKeeper. Therefore meaning the original business won't be able to get JobKeeper. Are you aware of that problem? And are you planning any changes to fix that problem?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, we're working closely, as the Treasurer is, in particular, as is the Tax Commissioner, on the implementation issues around JobKeeper. And let's also remember that where JobKeeper doesn't apply, JobSeeker does kick in. So, these two work together, and that's always been important. JobKeeper was never intended to be a catch-all for every Australian worker, or a worker who had their hours significantly reduced or, indeed, was stood down. It was intended to be there as an important element of the income support that we put in place, and the lifeline to businesses and to keep people connected to businesses. But where that can't be in place because of arrangements that we've set to ensure that we manage these issues well, not just administratively but fiscally, then JobSeeker is available. And as I said, we're approaching now almost 600,000 claims for JobSeeker over these last 5 or so weeks, which has been quite an effort on their part. And, again, I thank those who have made claims, and those who are still awaiting for their claims to be processed for their patience.
Yep? Was there someone else at the back? Sorry, I missed Jen! Sorry, Jen.
JOURNALIST: Apart from the outbreaks and the clusters that you are foreshadowing, based on these numbers and the advice from medical experts, are we ever going to see levels akin to the United States or parts of Europe? What's the likelihood of such a big second wave? Or can you safely say now that the worst is now behind us? And same question for Professor Murphy, if I can as well?
PRIME MINISTER: I think Professor Murphy is in a much better place to advise on that.
PROFESSOR MURPHY: So, we will do everything we can to avoid having a situation like that. And that's why we're putting in place the world's best testing and public health and surveillance regime before we relax any measures. No Australian wants to see hundreds of people dying a day from coronavirus. We are not prepared to see that, and that's why we are being so cautious and we are putting in these extraordinary surveillance measures. We want to be testing 40,000, 50,000 Australians a day if necessary, so that we can be absolutely sure. Because what's happened in those countries - I've said this on many occasions - is that they had, because this virus is quite mild, particularly in young adults, they can get it and it happened in those countries often, it was in the winter, people thought they had the flu or a cold, and tens of thousands of people probably had it, and then suddenly, unfortunately, some elderly people died of pneumonia or presented to hospital with pneumonia. They realised it, they test broadly and they find it's widespread. We have never been in that situation and we have no intention of being in that situation. I can't be 100% sure. We don't know everything about this virus. But I can tell you we're going to be as prepared as we can to
prevent that happening.
JOURNALIST: Just on your previous comments about negative globalism and the pending review into Australia's involvement with global bodies, has the pandemic impacted that review? And where does this leave the World Health Organization, given your criticisms of its handling?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I've just said a few times I think - and my criticisms, I think bear out the warnings that I provided in that speech to the Lowy Institute. I would say, if anything, events have only reaffirmed my view that I articulated to the Lowy Institute last year, I think it was back in September. I've said that we value very much the work that is done on the ground by the WHO. And we work closely with them, particularly here in the South-West Pacific. But I mean if it wasn't for the WHO in places like Indonesia at the moment, then, while I have obviously great concerns about the health and wellbeing of people in Indonesia, and we send our best wishes and as much support as we can to President Widodo, and the great challenge that he has there, the WHO is an important partner on the ground. And that's understood by Australia. And I've made those comments and reflected those comments to other international leaders. That said, what happens at the upper echelons of these organisations, and how they operate, I think is in need of change. And Australia will continue to advocate for that change with like-minded countries who share our concerns. What ultimate decision the United States ultimately takes on funding will be a matter for them. We will certainly want to see an improved set of arrangements at the WHO, and we'll continue to push for that through the forums as a participant, as a member, as someone who understands and publicly states the value of the work that it does on the ground. So, I think that's a constructive but not uncritical partner.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, you mentioned the National Cabinet agreed on some principles around sport and recreation,
PRIME MINISTER: That we would develop them. And that's the work that's under way now.
JOURNALIST: You will. Okay. Can you give us a sense of the inclination, perhaps, of the National Cabinet as to if there is a preference to see, say, elite sport return before community-level support? Or vice versa? And, secondly, on a separate matter, now that the Pell case has been finalised, will the Federal Government release the redacted parts of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse?
PRIME MINISTER: Well that is being worked through by the Attorney-General and I will leave that matter to him. I know they have been engaging with the relevant agencies on that in a positive way. So I'll leave that for him to address directly with you. On the broader issue of well, individual recreation, through to community competitive sport, and elite and professional sport, that is an important body of work that now has to be done and I don't want to pre-empt any of that. Obviously we're doing it from the point of view of being able, being in a position to be able to enable it again, and what is a safe way to be able to do that, and to get as much consistency as we possibly can across all the states and territories. And that was strongly supported today by all the states and territories, having something along those lines they would find very helpful, as I'm sure their residents would find helpful as well. I know that the elite sports bodies are raising issues with us and we will look at those very carefully, their funding issues, but also then how they train and so on. And that’s important. I mean, the Olympics have been put off for a year, but that gives them another year and we want to make sure they can put their best foot forward. In terms of the big codes, AFL, NRL, things like that, they're both working through states and territories presently. They're in different phases of where they're up to on that. And what we'll be doing, and particularly what the medical expert panel will be doing, will be drawing their proposals together. My understanding is that they have already had quite a lot of expert advice going into their plans, and that will probably present a lot of the homework that needs to be done to support the expert panel in setting out what some of those principles are. So, there's a bit of harvesting again that I think would occur from that process, which will be good. I think people would welcome seeing these things happening again, and not just at the elite and professional level. Everything around from going for a surf to, you know, having a game of football or whatever it happens to be, netball. So, we want to get back to a place where that can happen and we can have the confidence to do it safely. And we want to do that as soon as we can.
JOURNALIST: Professor, today at a briefing, Donald Trump said that quote, "a tremendous hit", unquote, of ultraviolet light could see off the virus. He also referenced the effectiveness of disinfectant and wondered whether injections of disinfectant might also be effective. Given that this is coming from the President of the United States, an influential person, is there any scientific basis to either of these propositions?
PROFESSOR MURPHY: I would not, I would caution against the injection of disinfection. There is, they could be quite toxic to people. I’m not, I wasn't privy to his comments, so I want to be very careful about commenting on something that I didn't hear myself. Certainly, and ultraviolet light, look, I don't know the context in which he said it, so I really would need to study it before I could comment, thank you.
JOURNALIST: I actually have a similar question, so I'm good, thank you.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, how is the Government going to balance wanting to boost growth with a desire to pay down the debt when it comes to company tax? And could I ask about your comments about looking at industrial relations with fresh eyes - does that mean that the Government is not going to push ahead with the Ensuring Integrity Bill?
PRIME MINISTER: No, it doesn't mean that at all. What it means is exactly what I said yesterday, and that is that we're encouraging all to take a fresh look and have fresh eyes on these challenges and problems, and policies and reports and recommendations that have been made in the past. I mean, I don't think I could be more up-front about that. I'm not drawing into any conclusions on any particular measures at this time. And I don't think it's fair to draw those conclusions at this time. I think we need to do that work, and we need to do that with an open mind. And we will. When it comes to the issue of revenue, the best way to increase your revenues is to grow your economy, not to increase taxes. We've demonstrated that as a Government, time and again, as has predecessor governments of the Liberal and National Party governments. If you think the way to increase revenues is to increase taxes, that has the effect of slowing your economy, then you'll neither raise your revenues or pay down your debt. That's been our experience. And we hold those views quite deeply.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on the workplace principles, workplaces that are potentially best placed to have social distancing, like an office, are also those that can more easily work from home. Is there sufficient economic benefit in getting those workers, you know, back on public transport, crowding our cities, moving around, when they could easily be working at home? Or would you prefer that the workplaces that started to look at returning were those that are services, operators, retail, that can't actually operate from home?
PRIME MINISTER: I would love to see a return to normal right across the board. Of course we want to see that. And that includes people going to work in offices. And that's an important part of how our economy functions. I mean, there are some people who can work from home, and for whom this period of time has been less of an inconvenience to them than it has to many others. But I'm sure you'd know that if you're a parent at home, trying to work from home and you've also got the kids at home, and they're trying to learn, it's not working too well for you. And your productivity isn't doing too well either. And so when we can get back to the point where we can have kids back at school, and we can get people back at work, then I think we're gonna see that also lift our economy in ways that we very much need. Because we want our economy to support businesses and jobs, not Government through subsidies and income support payments and things of that nature. I mean, our social security net will always be there for those who need it. But our preference and priority is always to ensure that our economy is what supports people's livelihoods. And that's what we need again. Now, how long it's gonna take us to get back to that point, well, we'll see. But I think we're making a lot of progress. Where we are right now is much more in advance of where we thought we would be and that's good news. And that means we are able to take steps that we're already taking right now that is getting us closer back to that point.
JOURNALIST: PM, thanks for that. You mentioned in your opening remarks about, as we sort of ease restrictions, the risk of clusters of infections breaking out. If those sort of scenarios do happen, do you envisage the sort of restrictions that would have to be reimposed in those particular pockets or communities will be akin to what we have now? Or would we have to go harder even in terms of locking down things and stuff like that, to avoid the situation that Professor Murphy was talking about, the overseas sort of thing, where you have widespread community transmission?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, it's going to depend very much on the case. We have a version of that at the moment out in western Sydney, around the nursing home, as we've had in north-west Tasmania. It's really going to depend on, I think, what is occurring and where it's occurring, and even the physical geography of these sorts of places. I mean, some places can be quite easily isolated. Others, in the middle of suburbs or neighbourhoods in major cities, it's very different. What we also want to be careful of, and this is why we're doing it in a very sort of incremental, iterative way as a National Cabinet, is what we don't want to see is a stop-start approach to our road back. This is why getting in place the sentinel testing, the comprehensive testing regime, the automated industrial-level contact tracing, which is very much helped by this app, this health app, a public health app that helps health workers help you. We need this so we can have the protections in place for you, your family, so you can get back to work, so you can get your kids back to school, so you can get back into community sport. That is what this app helps you do. That's what it's designed to do. That's why we've been so direct about it and so careful about its construction and the protections that are there. And to have this, as you say in your question, this rapid response that can deal with the condition on the ground, of course there will be outbreaks. I think we can anticipate that. But where you have the response capability and the AUSMAT teams and other quite well-trained and highly qualified people to go and seal off those outbreaks, then you can keep the rest of the country moving at the same time. That is our much preferred position. You don't want to go on a stop-start basis, and that's why you've got to be careful when you come to relax some of these restrictions. As you saw from Professor Murphy's modelling, moving into this sort of community phase off the repatriation phase, the risks are different. And with community transmission and protecting against that, there aren't the same level of certainties that you have of this person got off a plane, put them in a hotel, isolate, mission accomplished. But when it comes to community transmission, that surveillance testing, that sentinel testing that's in place, the app and the other contact tracing tools that we have are effectively doing the same thing. Giving us that same level of certainty, and with the rapid response, that you have by just getting someone off a plane and putting them in a hotel. We want to be able to replicate those defences when we're in this next phase and that's why we're doing exactly that. We're making a lot of progress every day. Australians are making a lot of progress every day. There's very few countries in the world that would not want to be in our position right now. And not just from a public health point of view but from the point of view of actually planning the economic recovery out as well. And that's very much where the government's focus is. That's where the National Cabinet's focus is as well. We spoke today also about infrastructure projects and things of that nature, regulation agendas, and that's going to become more and more part of the National Cabinet's agenda going forward, as we move to that getting things back to a COVID-safe economy and a COVID-safe community. So, that rapid response capability, Andrew, is a very important part of the tool kit that we need to ensure we can move back to that. But, sorry, David?
JOURNALIST: A follow-up question on testing. To you, Professor Murphy, you mentioned you would like to get 40,000 to 50,000 tests every day. When do you think that's achievable? Do we have enough test kits to achieve it? And further to the spread of, or the infection rate among children, one of the bits of feedback I get is we're not testing enough children and therefore the figures about low infection among children must be wrong. What's your comment on that?
PROFESSOR MURPHY: So on the latter, again, the New South Wales Health report they did test a lot of asymptomatic children in those school environments and found negative. They didn't find a lot of positives. That report, I think New South Wales Health will make that public fairly soon. I said if necessary, up to 40,000, 50,000. We're still doing the surveillance plan. We have done some really exciting work in the supply line of test kits. I'm sure Minister Hunt is going to be talking more about that in the coming weeks. But I think we are much more confident that we have diversified the supply line of testing. We feel that we will be able to secure enough tests to meet our whatever surveillance plan we put in place.
PRIME MINISTER: Just before we leave, I just want to confirm that Parliament is coming back on 12th, 13th and 14th of May. I met with the Opposition last night at our regular weekly get-together. On the Wednesday of that week, there will also be the Federation Chamber operating in the House of Representatives. The arrangements that we've had in place for the other days of sittings will be pursued when we return in more or less the same form, ensuring that the Chamber operates with the appropriate social distancing. But I anticipate we'll see a lot more members back in Parliament House, but obviously they can't all be in the Chamber at the one time or, indeed, in the Federation Chamber at the one time. The business of the Parliament in that week, it will be the ordinary business of the Parliament. I anticipate there will be a couple of COVID-related bills. And those COVID-related bills we would seek to work through with the Opposition in advance before we come back to the Parliament that week. Of course, once they have gone through the Government's party room processes and backbench committees, but otherwise, it is a return to the Parliament, a return back to that legislative program and the Government will be taking that forward. There are many bills already on the docket. There will be a lot more bills that will be introduced over the course of that week. So, 12, 13, 14 May. And it is our intention that going well, then we would expect to see further weeks of sittings between now and the end of the financial year.
Other than that, I will see everyone tomorrow morning at 5:30am. I will be at the War Memorial. Everyone else will be at home. At 6:00am I look forward to the entire nation, standing on their driveways, lighting up the dawn, remembering our fallen heroes and drawing great inspiration from them for the task and challenge that we currently face.
Thank you very much.