A glimmer of hope amid the global COVID-19 pandemic comes from Australia, which announced today that it will ease the lockdown measures that have been in place over the last month. As infection rates are reportedly down to 1 percent compared to 25 percent four weeks ago, Health Minister Greg Hunt told Reuters, “We are winning but we have not won yet.”
The Australian government has recorded over 13,000 cases of the virus to date, with approximately half concentrated in New South Wales, the country’s most densely populated region. It was projected that around 10 percent of Australia’s population would become unemployed if the lockdown remained in place until the end of June. The government’s decision to ease the confinement measures is part of a wider effort to help the economy recover.
The ease of restrictions is already underway as Bondi Beach and two nearby beaches are set to reopen today. It was further announced that beginning on Friday, NSW will allow up to two adults to visit another person’s home while continuing to observe strict social distancing guidelines. “For many people, they’ve been cooped up in their homes for a number of weeks, and with the exception of exercising, medical needs or buying what they need to or going to work, many people have been isolated in their homes,” Gladys Berejiklian, NSW’s premier and leader of the NSW Liberal Party, told local media.
The Australian government has currently tested around 1 percent of the population, although states set out to expand testing to all citizens as soon as possible. Australia’s precise mandate regarding testing has not been announced yet, though the country’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy mentioned a possible scaling up by using the help of private laboratories in addition to the public labs that have been responsible for testing so far.
As the lockdown begins to ease, the authorities are encouraging citizens to download the “contact tracing” smartphone app in order to stay up to date with the spread of the disease. To date, 10 percent of Australia’s population has downloaded the app called CovidSafe. Regarding privacy concerns related to the tracing, Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert told The Guardian, “There is no geolocation, there is no surveillance, there is no tracking,” emphasizing that the app will be used by health officials for the sole purpose of identifying the areas that are most likely to be infected.
It is hoped that a combination of widely available testing and effective contact tracing could provide the support that is needed to overcome COVID-19 in Australia.