Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia is “many weeks away” from lifting coronavirus restrictions.
Federal and state leaders will meet on Thursday and are expected to start drawing up an exit strategy for when the worst of the coronavirus is over.
He says the federal government is aiming to bolster the country’s health services before it eases restrictions.
“The immediate response capacity to outbreaks, wherever they might come, we’ve got to be able to slap down on these things very hard if we’re to look at easing of restrictions. We’re looking how that can be achieved,” Mr Morrison said.
“I wouldn’t want to mislead people. We’re still many weeks in to go on this,”
Governments around the world are struggling with the delicate balance between keeping people safe from a highly contagious disease and making sure they can still make a living.
But Mr Morrison pointed to other countries’ experience where the coronavirus suddenly returned after apparently fading.
“Things that need to happen before you can star considering that. You’ve seen in places like Singapore and Sweden and other parts of the world where the virus has just taken off again,” he said.
“We can’t have those sort of things happen here in Australia. We have to do everything we can do to prevent that.”
His comments echoed the World Health Organisation, which said any easing of restrictions must be closely managed by national governments.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said countries should be cautious about easing them.
“The way down is much slower than the way up. That means control measures must be lifted slowly and with control. It cannot happen all at once,” he said.
The Prime Minister did slam the WHO for supporting the reopening of wet markets in China.
Mr Morrison said it was “unfathomable” to support live animal markets, where experts believe coronavirus originated in the city of Wuhan.
“It’s unfathomable frankly. We need to protect the world against potential sources of outbreaks of these types of virus. It’s happened too many times,” Mr Morrison said.
Australia’s firm stance against wildlife markets could put the country on a collision course with the global health authority.
“We need to protect the world against potential sources of outbreaks of these types of viruses,” he added.
Meanwhile, Mr Morrison said the forecast jump in Australia’s unemployment rate to 1.4 million people would be “heartbreaking” for workers and companies hit by the virus.
The shutdown of the economy is expected to push the nation’s unemployment to 10 per cent by June.
“Well, it’s a heartbreaking number. Unemployment at that rate, hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs. It is just absolutely heartbreaking,” Mr Morrison said.
But he said the impact is being softened by the $130 billion JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme.
“The JobKeeper program means that we’ll be able to limit that devastation. And also we’ve got the doubling of the JobKeeper program which means those who do find themselves unemployed will be able to gain access to the support that we’ve never seen in this country before.”
He also said the Treasury did not expect the unemployment rate to hit 20 per cent as some economists predicted.
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