The prime minister has rebuked an “over-confident” reporter who asked the leader why he “got it wrong” when he said Australia would have to shut down for six months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Scott Morrison announced on Friday states would begin to ease lockdown restrictions, just two months after he said they would need to stay in place for six.
While speaking about the bushfire recovery efforts on Monday, Mr Morrison was asked by a reporter about the initial timeline to reopen businesses and allow larger gatherings.
“Two months ago you insisted to us, if you shut down, it had to be for six months. That was the only way you could squash the virus. How did you get that wrong...?” the reporter asked.
He asked the prime minister if he could confirm whether the treasury review into the Jobkeeper financial subsidy will assess whether to “truncate or alter the program” before September, given restrictions are being lifted.
Mr Morrison hit back at the reporter, suggesting he did not share the same confidence in models predicting the impact of the virus in the months ahead.
Virus is not all over, Morrison says
“Well, Andrew, I don’t share your certainty about the future that you seem to profess about how the coronavirus operates,” he said.
“We still have a long way to go on this. I think it is dangerous to assert this is all over, as your question suggests. So I wouldn’t agree with your assessment.
“We are just now starting to reopen our economy. We are not fully certain about what the implications of all that will be, and that’s why we have to remain on our guard and that’s why the states are moving at their own pace to implement the road map I set out last week.”
Mr Morrison then said the reporter was “over-confident” and explained his reasonings for starting to reopen to country.
“I wouldn’t be so over-confident as you when it comes to where things are at,” he said.
“I think Australians have to remain on their guard. I think the Chief Medical Officer was stressing this point yesterday. The reason we’re opening things up again is not because the virus is beaten. The virus is still out there – it hasn’t gone anywhere – it is still out there.
“The reason we’re reopening is we put protections in place and it will take us some time to reopen our economy and get it back to a point where it can start supporting Australians again, and so I wouldn’t share your assessment of the scene several months ago. We have put in place and bought six months’ worth of time.
“We're only six weeks into that six months. We have put the commitment in to support Australians over that period of time.”
Mr Morrison said the government would monitor any improvement in the economy and employment, and would adjust the scheme if necessary.
PM welcomes state coronavirus decisions
Victoria is the latest state to relax coronavirus rules, with home visits of up to five people to be allowed from Tuesday.
Mr Morrison, who announced baseline rules for states after a national cabinet meeting on Friday, welcomed the decision, but stressed states would move at their own pace to lift restrictions.
“An important part of what we decided is that people needed to see that road ahead,” he said.
“We understand the frustrations of not knowing what happens next and after that.”
Victoria is yet to make any commitment to allowing café and restaurant patrons to dine in.
From Monday, Tasmanians will be able to visit aged care facilities and national parks and reserves within 30 kilometres of their home for exercise, among other changes.
South Australia will start opening up regional travel and allow caravans and camping.
Australia recorded 14 new cases of coronavirus on Sunday, taking the national tally to 6941. There have been 98 deaths from COVID-19.
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy is urging people to act responsibly after images of dense crowds at shopping centres emerged over the weekend.
"If you are going to a shopping centre to buy something, go and buy something, but don't hang around the shopping centre for half-an-hour mingling for no purpose. Go home," he said.
Professor Murphy said businesses should refuse to serve people with flu-like symptoms and bosses should send sick workers home.
Meanwhile, Deloitte economist Chris Richardson expects the coronavirus to plunge Australia $143 billion into deficit this financial year.
Mr Morrison said the government was conscious of the burdens placed on current and future taxpayers to deal with the disease.
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