Top doctor warns about 'likely' side effect of easing restrictions

Australia's Chief Medical Officer has warned easing lockdown restrictions could result in more outbreaks of coronavirus.

Addressing reporters on Tuesday to give a daily update on the national coronavirus figures, Professor Brendan Murphy warned Australia will see clusters of cases as states move to relax restrictions, enabling society to return to something that resembles normality in Australia.

Over the past 24 hours there have been an additional 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia.

“The increase in the last day or so has been a little more than we’ve seen earlier in the week,” Prof Murphy said.

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy says small outbreaks are to be expected as restrictions ease. Source: AAP

He said the slight increase in confirmed cases was “obviously of concern” and pointed out the new cases mainly relate to the outbreak at the Victorian meatwork facility.

According to VicHealth, 11 new cases were linked to the facility, taking the cluster’s total up to 45.

Prof Murphy praised VicHealth saying the outbreak has been “expertly controlled” through extensive “tracing of contacts, isolation and quarantine”.

He said the outbreak in the facility served as a “salutary lesson”.

“These are the sorts of things we are likely to keep seeing over the coming months, particularly if we do relax some of the measures, we will likely see outbreaks,” Prof Murphy warned.

“And we have been saying for some time the most important thing if we do get an outbreak, given the very, very infectious nature of this virus, that we have to have that capacity to quickly test, trace, isolate and quarantine.”

When asked by a reporter what the modelling indicates around potential outbreaks, Prof Murphy said what the government is expecting is small outbreaks with swift testing and tracing, with case numbers of hopefully less than 100, something the government is certain is manageable.

Prof Murphy stressed the importance of the government’s COVIDSafe app and the importance of the app in its role for contact tracing.

He said it was great there has been increased movement and steps have been taken to open up the economy, but he warned people still need to be careful.

“We still have to practice that social distancing, practise that hand hygiene, not do silly things – get together in house parties, not break any of the rules,” Prof Murphy said.

He said the steps the National Cabinet will be taking in the coming week will be “cautious decisions”, because the virus is still prevalent in the community, even though Australia has relatively low numbers.

“We are in a great place, but we cannot risk this great place that we’re in,” the Chief Medical Officer said.

He reiterated anyone with a sniffle or cold should get tested, and doing so should be the only reason to leave the house if ill, adding that testing will prevent broad outbreaks in the community.

He said Australia has a good supply of tests and tests will be conducted for the foreseeable future.

The workplace will be different amid pandemic

Prime Minister Scott Morrison eluded to COVID-safe workplaces and Prof Murphy said “hot desking” may need to be done “in a different way”.

He said there would need to be staggered start and finish times when people begin returning to offices so there’s no over crowding on public transport and frequent cleaning will be paramount for shared spaces.

“We want staff to have a responsibility for hygiene, hand sanitiser everywhere, everybody sanitising their hands, people not shaking their hands, people not crowding into small rooms for meetings,” he said, adding video meeting should be conducted where necessary and travelling interstate for a meeting is a no.

Handshakes are a no-go for the time being, Prof Murphy says. Source: Getty Images

Prof Murphy added distancing measures will be here to stay until there is a vaccine or treatment for the disease.

“I don’t think we’ll be shaking hands and randomly hugging and getting into crowded in rooms for a long time,” he warned.

In Australia, there have been 6849 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 96 death, with over 665,000 tests conducted nationwide.

In intensive care units around the country, there are 27 people and 20 people are on ventilators.

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