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The Opera House and Opera Bar during shutdown
Photograph: Maxim Boon

NSW's social restrictions could be 'relaxed' within weeks


With millions of Australians now living under austere “suppression” conditions – more popularly known elsewhere in the world as “lockdown” – the question every Australian is asking is, 'when will this all be over?'. Time frames from 90 days up to 18 months have been rumoured, but the government has not provided anything concrete. However, as new data has shown a daily decrease in the number of new cases, some light has appeared at the end of this very dark tunnel.

In Wednesday's daily media briefing, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian thanked the state’s citizens for abiding by social restrictions and hinted at the possibility of life returning to some kind of normality, potentially within weeks – possibly even by May 1. Suppression strategies seem to be working, with the state’s aggressive approach to mass testing and mandatory quarantining already yielding promising results. Redirecting manufacturers to create medical machinery and other essential supplies has also doubled the state’s intensive care capacity, with the aim to eventually quadruple the number of beds, ventilators and PPE gear available to frontline medical responders.

Berejiklian said that if this trend continued, acting on the advice of health professionals, she would consider “relaxing” certain restrictions to offer “relief to the community”, although she did not elaborate on what those restrictions might be. This would be reviewed on a month-by-month basis, but physical distancing protocols would likely remain in effect for the foreseeable future. 

However, Berejiklian was also careful to manage expectations. Currently, without a vaccine, it is impossible to totally eradicate the coronavirus in Australia. This means that when restrictions are lifted, the spread of the virus will inevitably increase. This “balancing act” would become the new normal in NSW, as the pros and cons of keeping the populace under full suppression measures are weighed against the impact that increased numbers of Covid-19 sufferers might have on Australia’s medical infrastructure.

“I need to be very upfront about that. Every time you relax a restriction, more people will get sick. More people will die. And it’s a horrible situation to be in, but they’re the choices and we need to be upfront about that,” Berejiklian said. “Everybody is doing so well. I know it’s hard. All of us are in this. We all know how hard it is and what impact it’s having on all of us and our loved ones. But it is having a positive effect. We have managed to contain the spread, and we have managed to ensure that those people who do have the disease are isolated and stay isolated. But if at any stage in the next few weeks, if the health experts give us advice to say that there’s an opportunity to relax any part of the existing restrictions, we will take that advice.”

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