Australia’s active coronavirus cases have fallen below 1,000 for the first time in more than five weeks.
Just 986 people were infected with the deadly respiratory virus as of Thursday morning, with 5,670 of the 6,744 cases recovered. So far, 90 people have died.
But the government says an even more important milestone was reached in the 24 hours from Tuesday to Wednesday morning, when just one new case of community-to-community transmission was recorded across the country.
The remaining 13 cases identified on Wednesday were close connections to other known carriers, meaning Australia is successfully tracing the virus and limiting its reach in the community.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt described the statistic as possibly ‘the most important’ in the fight against COVID-19 so far.
‘There was only one case from an unknown source, only one case of community transmission across Australia,’ he said.
‘That is perhaps the most important figure I have had the privilege of raising since coming into this role and dealing with the coronavirus issue.’
There are less active cases in Australia than there were six weeks ago on March 20.
This graph shows how active cases of coronavirus are dwindling while the number of recovered patients are growing
Despite the strictest restrictions imposed on Victorians, large crowds were seen exercising during on ANZAC Day
Health authorities have repeatedly congratulated Australians for smashing the curve, while urging people not to get complacent.
South Australia hasn’t recorded a new case in seven days, while the Northern Territory has reached its own milestone – three weeks without a new diagnosis.
In celebrating the small wins, a handful of states have committed to easing some of the measures in place to slow the spread of the virus.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison hinted almost all restrictions could be lifted in as little as four weeks to jump start the economy, which teeters on the brink of recession.
A plan to reopen restaurants in June will be discussed at a National Cabinet meeting on May 11.
Government officials have repeatedly said allowing restaurants to open their doors would be among the final restrictions to be eased, though it would be many months until international travel and mass gatherings were on the cards.
Mr Morrison believes ‘beating’ the virus is more than just a health concern. He said reopening schools and workplaces will be crucial victories as well.
The prime minister says the nation’s great success in flattening infection rates is not the only end goal.
A sign telling people to ‘surf and go’ is seen at Sydney’s Bondi Beach (pictured on April 28), with residents only allowed on beaches for essential exercise
A large group are seen enjoying the sun at McKenzies Beach on April 25 (pictured) which is still against the rules in NSW as it is neither exercise nor essential
South Australia has enjoyed seven consecutive days with no new coronavirus cases
‘We don’t want to just win the battle against COVID-19 but lose a broader conflict when it comes to the economy and the functioning of our society,’ he said on Wednesday.
The nation’s coronavirus death toll rose to 90 on Wednesday after a 12th person died at a western Sydney nursing home.
‘If we were to consider our success on COVID-19 as just having a low number of cases, that is not good enough,’ Mr Morrison said.
The Liberal leader nominated having protections in place, enabling people to return to work and children attend classrooms as key milestones.
‘Of course, there will continue to be additional cases; of course, there will be outbreaks – that’s what living with the virus will be like,’ he said.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly was confident Australia could handle a potential second wave of infections.
People in NSW are allowed to visit friends at home, in groups of two, or exercise on some beaches. Sunbaking is not allowed (pictured, a woman on Balmoral Beach on April 23)
‘If a second wave does occur, we’ll deal with it quickly and we’ll respond to it,’ he said.
Germany’s infection rate grew after relaxing lockdown measures last week, as did Singapore’s.
In order to lift restrictions quicker, Australians have been urged to download the government’s coronavirus tracing app.
In just three days, already three million people have embraced the program, prompting a sincere thanks from the PM.
But that figure is just over 10 per cent of the population, and well short of the 10million target set by the government.
Mr Morrison urged those signing up to encourage two or three people they know to do so as well, likening it to wearing sunscreen outdoors.
‘That is Australia’s ticket to a COVID-safe Australia where we can go about doing the things we love doing once again,’ he said.
Security is seen patrolling Scarborough Beach in Perth on April 27 (pictured), with socially distanced groups of up to ten people now allowed in Western Australia
The Queensland government (pictured, a man in Moreton Bay during lockdown) will ease restrictions from Friday following a successful period in flattening the curve
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 6,744
New South Wales: 3,016
Western Australia: 550
South Australia: 438
Australian Capital Territory: 106
Northern Territory: 28
TOTAL CASES: 6,744
While the app is not compulsory, Mr Morrison said it is the key to easing restrictions quicker, and would only be effective if at least 40 per cent of the population embraced it.
‘I know this would be something they might not normally do at an ordinary time but this is not an ordinary time. If you download this app you’ll be helping save someone’s life.’
While there are positive indications life will begin to return to normal over the coming weeks, the PM broke the hearts of sporting fans from the west coast to east when he admitted allowing live crowds at games would likely be one of the last policies reintroduced.
Cafes and pubs as well as places of worship could re-open and sport could restart – but going to stadiums is a long way off.
He said he ‘cannot see’ international travel and watching sport in stadiums resuming ‘anytime soon’.
In a press conference on Wednesday, the PM said allowing travel would be too risky while other nations suffer high case numbers – although an exception could be made for New Zealand which has almost eliminated the virus.
‘I can’t see international travel occurring anytime soon,’ he said.
‘The risks there are obvious. The only exception to that, as I have flagged, is potentially with New Zealand, and we have had some good discussions about that.’
The government is also hoping to expand on COVID-19 testing, after mining magnate Andrew Forrest secured an additional 10 million tests for the cool price of $320million.
There are currently 6,744 known cases of coronavirus, including 90 people who have died
Streets remain basically empty (pictured in Melbourne) as most people follow the rules and stay indoors amid the crisis
Coronavirus-stricken nursing home registers 12th death
A western Sydney aged care home at the centre of a COVID-19 outbreak has suffered a 12th death.
The Anglicare-run Newmarch House reported an additional death on Wednesday after four were reported on Tuesday.
Anglicare chief executive Grant Millard earlier on Wednesday said the facility was anticipating more deaths.
About 80 residents are still living at the home near Penrith.
Twenty registered nurses, 25 carers, 11 cleaners and a GP are working daily at the nursing home where 34 residents and 22 staff members have tested positive to COVID-19.
‘(It’s) really running as a pseudo hospital at the moment,’ Mr Millard said.
Residents have been isolated since the outbreak on April 11.
The billionaire struck a deal with China for the products, which expands Australia’s testing capability 20-fold.
National cabinet will on Friday discuss the use of the kits in sentinel testing, which would involve wider screening of the population.
Professor Kelly said the tests would be an important step towards lifting restrictions, noting 544,000 people have been tested nationally.
‘We’ll be expanding on testing, but we’re not testing for testing’s sake,’ he said.
The meeting of state and federal leaders will also look at the principles for the return of elite and community sport.
During a press conference on Wednesday night, Victorian China Consul-General Zhou Long said he hoped the initiative behind the additional tests would help to ease tension between China and Australia.
China is accused of covering up the severity of the epidemic after it started in a live exotic animal market in Wuhan, costing the world vital weeks of preparation. Pictured: A bat in a wet market in Indonesia
Jingye Cheng triggered a diplomatic firestorm by warning Scott Morrison’s push for an inquiry into the origins of coronavirus could lead to a boycott of Australia
Diplomatic relations between the two nations have dwindled in the wake of Australia demanding there be an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus.
Chinese officials have described the ask as ‘political manoeuvring’ on Mr Morrison’s behalf and threatened to terminate economic trade.
In spite of the backlash, the Australian PM has stood his ground.
Mr Morrison denied the move was directed at Beijing, saying the inquiry would be in the global health interest.
‘It is not a remarkable position. It is a fairly common sense position and one that we don’t resile from,’ he said.
WHICH STATES AND TERRITORIES ARE EASING CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS?
* Coronavirus restrictions eased from Monday, 27 April.
* Two-person limit on non-work activities, including picnics, boating, hiking, camping, and group exercise eased from two to 10 people, provided they adhere to social distancing and good hygiene.
* Weddings and funerals can have up to 10 people present.
* In real estate, open houses and display villages permitted but records must be kept of everyone who enters a home.
* Students will return to the classroom from May 29.
* WA Premier Mark McGowan said it was a ‘cautious relaxation’ of restrictions.
* Parks and reserves will reopen this weekend.
* Cafes and gyms expected to reopen in June, but under strict rules.
* ‘We can only do this because of the work and sacrifices of Territorians and we can only keep our parks open if Territorians are respectful of each other’s space,’ Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said.
* Stay-at-home restrictions to ease from Saturday, May 2.
* Family picnics and weekend drives allowed, national parks will reopen and people can shop for clothing and shoes.
* Citizens must stay within 50km of their homes, and social distancing will still be enforced.
* People from the same household can go out together, while those who live alone can spend time with one other person.
* No change to schools until at least May 15 with students continuing to learn remotely where they can.
* ‘We recognise that Queenslanders have done a great job in trying to flatten that curve. So we also know it’s having a big impact on people’s mental health. We thought we could lift some stay-at-home restrictions,’ Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says.
* Coronavirus restrictions to be reassessed on May 11 when the state of emergency ends.
* ‘I don’t know what transmission will look like this week or next week, but I think the state of emergency going to May 11 is a nice line-up with the national cabinet process for a real look at changing the restrictions,’ Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton said.
* Restrictions closing non-essential retail in the northwest, due to be lifted on Sunday, have been pushed back to at least May 3.
* Most Tasmanian students to begin term two on Tuesday remotely, but schools in the northwest area will open a week later.
* ‘I don’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction … take away restrictions too early only to have to bring them back again,’ Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said.
NEW SOUTH WALES
*From Friday 1 May, two adults and their children can visit friends in their home
* The state government is encouraging shops to re-open with social distancing in place
*Pupils are going back to school on May 11 on a roster basis. State government wants full-time classroom teaching sooner rather than later
* South Australia not looking at easing any coronavirus restrictions ‘any time soon’.
* ‘Our restrictions are actually not as severe in some respects as other states and territories,’ South Australian Health Minister Stephen Wade said.
* The territory won’t be lifting any restrictions soon.
* ‘This is not a race or a contest between jurisdictions. We are in a great position here in the ACT, largely thanks to the great community effort in complying with the rules around physical distancing. However, we have seen around the world what can happen when restrictions are imposed too late or taken away too early,’ ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said.