Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have spiked across the country as states and territories begin winding back restrictions, prompting calls from ministers for people to beware of the virus “bubbling under the surface”.
Residents in NSW from midnight Thursday were permitted to drink and dine out, much like those in the NT from noon on Friday, and in Queensland from Saturday.
But as people took advantage of their long-awaited freedoms, Australia recorded its highest number of cases in nearly a month.
The number of cases breached 7000 on Friday, but the death toll from the pandemic remains at 98, which still is extremely low by international standards.
Victoria has recorded another 11 new cases, including a further two infections connected to the west Melbourne abattoir cluster, which now stands at 98.
Elsewhere, a McDonald's restaurant in the north Melbourne suburb of Fawkner has recorded an additional case, with the outlet's cluster growing to 11.
There was just one new case in Queensland.
NSW reported eight new cases of coronavirus from 12,200 tests on Friday, and on Saturday there were three new cases, the state’s health minister Brad Hazzard said.
He pleaded with residents to continue adhering to social distancing requirements while enjoying their new freedoms, claiming he had witnessed several people behaving “COVID dangerous” this morning.
In reminding people the “virus is still amongst us”, Mr Hazzard asked that residents behave as though they have COVID-19.
“If you do that, we will all be safe and our freedoms, of course, will grow,” he said.
“Unless there is a vaccine or a good treatment, and effective, fast treatment, we know that this very dangerous virus is still quite capable of moving among us and effectively doing its evil best.”
NSW director of health protection Jeremy McAnulty said the three new cases were all linked to overseas travellers, with him warning people to be mindful the virus was still present in the community.
“While there are three cases, which is a small number, we do know that the virus is bubbling underneath the surface, and the really important message is that people get tested if they have any symptoms at all,” he told reporters.
His message echoed that of Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone, who urged people to remain vigilant because the virus was still very much posing a threat.
“If we do the wrong things, we risk undoing all the gains that we've made so far,” Dr Batone told the ABC on Saturday.
“So, the message is, yes, appreciate all the efforts, appreciate the opportunity to release some of those measures, but let's not have a party, let's not go to town.”
He said people must still maintain social distance, cough etiquette, washing hands regularly and staying away from others if they are unwell.
“Those messages are really the backbone as we progressively lift those restrictions,” he said.
The national cabinet met on Friday and endorsed a $48.1 million mental health response plan that is set to roll out in coming months, including research and support services.
It comes as the economic impact of the pandemic was plain to see in new figures this week with almost 600,000 people recorded as losing their job in April, the largest one-month employment fall on record.
The jobless rate also jumped to a five-year high of 6.2 per cent and the Australian Treasury expects this get worse, peaking at 10 per cent in the coming months.
“If you've never lost your job, there's no real way to understand the anxiety or the emptiness in the pit of people's stomachs, the things they're going through right now,” Labor frontbencher Jason Clare told the ABC.
“It affects the mental health of so many Australians. We can all agree there's a hell of a lot more that we need to do. And there's more pain on the way.”
Liberal backbencher Jason Falinski said the best way to help people is to get them back to work.
“The best way to create jobs is to get the economy open,” he told the ABC.
“It's going to be a long journey out, but a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. And the sooner we take that step, the sooner the journey is over.”
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.