'Down the track': Premier hints at timeline for relaxing social distancing restrictions

Josh Dutton
News Reporter

The NSW Premier says restrictions put in place to fight the spread of coronavirus may be loosened at some stage “down the track”.

Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Monday, “people have done the right thing” in abiding by social distancing measures.

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“It has been about a week now and we know we are making a difference and we want to keep this up because every four weeks, every day we are able to review how NSW is going,” the premier said. 

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state is 'already focusing on recovery'. Source: AAP

“And there is a chance down the track where we can lift the restrictions in some ways, or else what we don't want to have to do is go harder and that is certainly something I don't want to go.

“I'm also pleased to say we have already started focusing on recovery, on what we can do as we emerge out of this difficult time.”

Ms Berejiklian added “the next six months are going to be difficult”.

‘I think we are lucky’

Professor Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases expert from the Australian National University, told the ABC on Monday what Victoria and NSW are doing with restrictions “is more than we need to do”.

Professor Collignon said evidence has shown “minimal” community transmission and social distancing measures are working.

“Not letting people go outside and sit on a park bench, for instance, how will that stop transmission?” he told the ABC.

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said last week his state will visit level four restrictions.

Mr Andrews didn’t specify exactly what they were though.

A sign warns beachgoers at Freshwater beach in Sydney to keep their distance from each other. Source: Getty Images

But Professor Collignon said “ramping things up”, or tightening restrictions, “is a concern”.

“We will never have zero risk over the next two years, but we modify what to do to minimise the people who get the infection, but also minimise the social, and economic and livelihood cost within reason,” he said.

Professor Collignon said, “I think we are lucky” after witnessing the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in other countries.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said community transmission is what concerns him most.

"Those are the reasons we have brought in the social distancing measures and all of those measures to stop the spread,” he said.

For about 10 per cent of these cases, the transmission of the virus is unknown, as there is no known contact with another case. 

Ninety days to learn

NSW Police were granted new powers under the existing Public Health Act 2010 last month to enforce heavy fines to anyone not self-isolating if they were instructed to or contravening any other orders given by the state.

Under the act, police can hand out $1000 on-the-spot fines to people and $5000 on-the-spot fines to businesses. 

Police patrol Bondi Beach amid the pandemic outbreak. Source: Getty Images

For example, a gym being open or a restaurant allowing people to eat in face fines of $5000.

The state government also issued a list of 16 acceptable reasons residents can leave their homes including to do exercise, buy essentials from the supermarket or if they are at risk of harm.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said the rules will last for 90 days.

That would see the order end on June 29.

“People will have gotten the message by then, hopefully," he said on Thursday.

"We won't be talking about the powers, we'll be talking about what does it look like coming out of this."

NSW Police guard the rear entrance of the Urban Newtown hotel where quarantined Australian travellers are staying. Source: Getty Images

Comm Fuller said he is not expecting to have to apply for an extension.

As of Monday morning, NSW has 2,637 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 57 new cases reported.

with AAP

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