A full community lockdown of non-essential services with school closures for all but the children of the most critical workers could be the next step in fighting Australia’s coronavirus pandemic unless the disease epidemiology improves.
At midnight Wednesday a raft of further measures will come into effect including the closure of businesses and community centres, libraries, swimming pools, tanning shops, food courts except for takeaway, spas, spin facilities, sex premises, and galleries among other measures.
People will have to avoid birthday parties, barbecues and house parties, with weddings limited to five people and funerals limited to 10, where strict social distancing must be observed.
Australians will also be banned from travelling overseas in the most drastic government intervention into citizens’ private lives in recent history.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new way of life will be with us for at least six months and would require a “significant sacrifice” with friends and families banned from seeing each other.
“So that means barbecues of lots of friends, or even family, extended family coming together to celebrate one-year-old birthday parties, and those sorts of things, we can’t do those things now. These will be a significant sacrifice,’’ he said.
“Australians should stay at home, unless shopping for essentials, travelling to and from work – where you cannot work from home, going to school and exercising. Keep visitors to your home at a minimum. In outdoor spaces do not congregate in groups.”
However, restrictions could go further in the coming days if cases of COVID-19 do not begin to plateau. The total number of Australian cases is now more than 2000 with eight deaths.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), which advises the National Cabinet on strategy in dealing with the virus said the next step could be a full lockdown of non-essential activity.
“The next step, if required, is likely to be a carefully considered closure of all activity except essential industries and services,” it said.
“All states and territories are in agreement with the above position, except Victoria, who expressed the desire for even stronger measures at this time.”
In a statement published earlier this week, the committee also outlined the thinking on schools, which remain open for now.
“School closures are likely to be more effective when approaching the peak of the epidemic and enforced for a shorter period.”
“If there is a strong desire to close schools at this later stage, it is essential that an option is provided for children of essential service providers, such as health care workers, to attend school or be otherwise cared for,” it said.
“AHPPC believes that school closures and full community lockdown should be held in reserve at this time with close daily review of the epidemiology.”
The committee said a trigger for further lockdowns would include strong evidence of local transmission of the disease. At present, it believes cases are primarily coming from travellers returning from overseas, cruise ships or superspreader events such as a recent wedding where 36 guests were infected.
It also blamed the “slow implementation” and relaxed approach of many Australians to social distancing for the stronger restrictions that needed to be introduced.
Many of the changes announced on Tuesday sparked confusion online over arbitrary limits, such as hairdresser appointments lasting just 30 minutes.