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Group sport and travel to NZ: how 'stay at home' restrictions could be relaxed within weeks

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Australia’s chief medical officer, Dr Brendan Murphy, has made a series of recommendations to the government about how certain social and travel restrictions could be rolled back within weeks.

However, he also said others may need to remain in place for the foreseeable future. Murphy told a Senate Committee that the nation’s borders will need to remain closed for at least another three to four months, and opening them again would need to be one of the final Covid-19 containment measures to be relaxed. Murphy also said Australians should be discouraged from leaving the country unless “exceptional circumstances” demanded it, citing the “international situation” of the global pandemic. “The international spread of this virus is huge,” Murphy added. 

Australia has managed to contain the spread of the coronavirus more successfully than virtually any other country in the world. Due to its similarly successful approach, travel to and from New Zealand may be re-established in the near future, with Scott Morrison confirming that talks were currently underway with NZ's prime minister Jacinda Ardern. 

Murphy also said that certain social regulations could also soon be eased. While large-scale gatherings will remain prohibited, Murphy said that small gatherings could be allowed by May 11. “There are a range of measures that they’ve asked us to consider, things like community sport, some retail measures, all of those things will be in the mix,” he said. “But we have to weigh up the public health risk versus the benefit to society and the economy.”

So far, Australia has surpassed even the most optimistic projections about how social distancing measures might slow the spread of Covid-19. In fact, isolation tactics are proving so effective, that new data is suggesting that social distancing alone may be eradicating Covid-19 in Australia, without the need for a vaccine. 

The number of newly identified cases has been steadily decreasing nationwide in the past week, with several states, such as South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, registering zero new cases for several consecutive days. 

When asked about the significance of this development in a media briefing on April 23, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth, said that, while physical distancing was part of Australia’s ‘suppression’ strategy, a “happy side effect” of isolation protocols could potentially be the eradication of the virus in certain states.

The reality is that we as the Australian community are doing an amazing job in that suppression strategy, to the extent that there are some states that have reported zero new cases for several days now,” he said. “So, eradication, which basically means that in a geographical area there are no reported cases or you have effectively eliminated coronavirus from a geographic area, could be an outcome of an excellent suppression strategy.”

However, Dr Coatsworth also said that it would be unwise for the Australian public to be complacent about how rapidly Covid-19 can spread. Just two days earlier, in his media briefing on April 21, Coatsworth had asserted that a vaccine was the only reliable way to end the pandemic and that Australia’s social restrictions would need to remain in place until at least May 11.

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