Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a three-step plan to reopen the country’s economy by July, as the government begins winding down social distancing measures intended to stop the spread of coronavirus.
Australia banned public gatherings and non-essential travel as part of a series of restrictions in late March. Local transmission has since been curbed, however, with the outbreak now considered broadly under control.
There were only 19 new infections on Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University, bringing the country’s total number of reported cases to 6,913, with 97 fatalities.
Speaking at a press conference Friday, Morrison said it was time to re-open the country.
“The next step beyond this will be to build confidence and momentum that will see our economy get back up and running and get Australians back up on their feet and moving ahead with confidence,” said Morrison.
According to Morrison, the relaxing of restrictions will be carried out in three stages. The first will allow greater connections between friends and family, allowing for more people to gather at home and visit each other.
Morrison said that pupils will likely be able to return to school, while restaurants, retail stores and cafes can reopen. Thirty people will be allowed to attend funerals and ten will be able to attend weddings.
In Step two, larger gatherings of up to 20 people will be allowed in venues such as cinemas and galleries, while organized community sport events and beauty parlors will be allowed to reopen.
Finally, in the step three, gatherings of up to 100 people will be allowed and interstate travel will be permitted to resume.
Morrison said there would be no strict timeline for the measures, with states and territories allowed enact them at their own pace, but that the goal would be to move through all of the steps to achieve a “Covid safe economy” by July of this year.
Australia is not the first country to relax restrictions in the face of a shrinking number of coronavirus infections. Countries such as Germany, Italy and Spain are already slowly returning to normal while China has relaxed many of its preventative measures.
Morrison said Friday that more than a month under widespread restrictions had done great damage to Australia’s economy.
More than one million Australians have applied for unemployment allowance since the measures began, while another five million are currently on government payments to avoid losing their jobs.
Another million are tapping into their retirement savings early to stay afloat, according to Morrison.
“So many Australians are hurting right now. Lives turned upside down. Painful separation form their loved ones. Livelihoods that they’ve spent a lifetime building, stripped away,” he said.
But Morrison said it had also shown how Australia could come together in times of crisis. “Every Australian matters, every life, every job, every future.”