This weekend people in NSW will be permitted to visit the household of others for the first time in weeks as cases of coronavirus fall and restrictions begin to ease.
Two adults and their dependent children will have permission from Friday to visit another household. Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced earlier this week the move was to help the mental health of residents who have been forced to stay home.
“It extends the existing guidelines of being able to leave home for ‘care or medical purposes’,” Ms Berejiklian said.
But just exactly what is allowed during these trips? How far can you go and how many households should people be visiting on a given day?
What should visitors do when they arrive?
The government has advised that a 1.5 metre distance should still be kept between visitors and their hosts, ruling out physical contact in the form or hugging, hand shaking and kissing.
Professor Adrian Esterman, a professor of biostatistics at the University of South Australia, also recommended maintaining a safe distance from hosts.
“Just avoid touching other people just for the moment, I think that rule will go in the not too distant future, because we’re still getting the odd few cases a day in Australia,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
“Until we can eliminate the thing, I think we’ve just go to be a little bit careful.”
He encouraged Australians to “be a little bit sensible, at least for the next few weeks until we have really killed it (COVID-19) off”.
Professor Archie Clements, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences at Curtin University, said it was essential people maintained good hygiene before and during their visit to someone else’s home.
“That means sanitising your hands before you visit, avoiding hand shaking, hugging and physical contact - the risk goes up if you’re in close physical proximity in a closed space,” he said.
“Visiting someone in a garden is probably safer than visiting someone inside their home.”
Professor Esterman said it was reasonable that state governments were beginning to take “the foot off the pedal” with the strict social restrictions.
“We’re at the stage in Australia now where we’ve have so few deaths and so little in the way of community acquired infections, that I think we can start taking the foot off the pedal,” he said.
“As long as governments do this in a very careful staged way, and monitor what’s happening with sensible surveillance, then I think there’s very little risk.”
How many houses can you visit?
While there has been no government advice for how many households people should visit in a day, experts have urged Australians to use their common sense when deciding where to travel and when.
“It’s common sense that the more households you visit the greater the probability is that you’ll spread coronavirus if you’re infected,” Professor Clements told Yahoo News Australia.
Prof Clements encouraged people to “err on the side of caution” when choosing how to organise their social schedule amid the relaxed restrictions.
“There still is community transmission occurring of coronavirus in NSW, although it’s at a very low level, but there is still a risk there.
“So people should still behave responsibly and with caution.”
Professor Esterman also encouraged people to be sensible in their movements, but highlighted a relatively low likelihood of contracting COVID-19 in the current phase of the outbreak.
“The probability of being infected at the moment is so low that I don’t think it’s necessary to put rules around how many people you can visit,” he said.
“People just need to be sensible and keep their social distancing. They need to just be pragmatic and not go silly, because then we’ll see infections rise again.”
How far can you travel?
There is no limit on how far you can travel within NSW to visit someone as long as you respect the rules, and the reason is consistent with one of the four categories for leaving home.
The four reasons for leaving home are for work or study; to shop for food and other goods and services; exercise and to care for others.
The premier has urged people to be especially vigilant around the elderly and said she will not be going inside her own parents’ home.
“If you are visiting those aged over 70 or those with underlying health conditions we are urging you to be extra vigilant with social distancing and hygiene measures,” a NSW government statement said.
Can I host a party?
Parties should “absolutely not” be hosted or attended by anyone in this volatile stage of the coronavirus situation, Professor Esterman said.
Professor Clements agreed, strongly urging against any gatherings of a party-like nature as Australia is “not out of the woods yet”.
“The relaxing of restrictions is really about helping people stay connected and ensuring their mental well-being is kept intact - it should more be for visiting loved ones, family and close friends,” he said.
“What you do doesn’t just impact on your health but also potentially on the health of other people.”
While the easing of restrictions is a promising sign that Australia has done well as a society, it is in no way assurance that another flare up in cases will not occur, Prof Clements said.
“People should see this as a tentative and short-term reprieve but with the hope that it will be a long-term situation that we can enjoy.”
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