The chief medical officer has told a Senate inquiry that restrictions on retail, small gatherings and community sport could be the first to be eased.
“If you have a virus which does not spread from human to human, it is easy to contain, but once you have human-to-human contamination, it becomes risky.”
Since then it has been a constant series of meetings, phone hook-ups and daily media briefings as Australia and the world grapple with the deadliest pandemic in a century, infecting 2.6 million people and killing almost 200,000.
Professor Murphy said he was proud of Australia’s response, crediting aggressive travel bans, extensive testing and the implementation of social distancing protocols for containing the outbreak.
He said the decision to ban travellers who had been in mainland China which was criticised by Beijing at the time and went against advice of the World Health Organisation had prevented an uncontrolled outbreak.
Australia also progressively banned travellers from South Korea, Italy and Iran, areas of early disease outbreaks, before shutting the border totally.
“I think in retrospect our colleagues in the United Kingdom and United States regret they didn’t do the same,” he said.
But he cautioned the disease had not been beaten yet.
“We have to be very, very aware that whilst we’ve only had seven cases over the last 24 hours, we’re in a wonderful position, but there is a permanent risk of further waves,” he said.
“This is a highly infectious virus and it can take off fairly quickly.”
Professor Murphy opened up on the prospect of easing restrictions, which have crippled the economy and upended society, in about three weeks based on national cabinet’s tentative timetable.
Initially, areas of focus were likely to be retail stores, community sport and allowing small gatherings. But events with large crowd numbers were still some time away.
While Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has indicated the borders were likely to remain closed for much of the year, Professor Murphy said international travel could start again in three to four months.
“We’ve just recommended to the national cabinet that we continue the very restrictive bans on Australians basically leaving the country unless there are exceptional circumstances, or anyone except Australian citizens coming back. The international spread of this virus is huge,” Professor Murphy said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said New Zealand would probably be the first country Australia could “reconnect” with, given it had achieved similar results in suppressing the virus.