Australia could be hit by a massive second wave of coronavirus far worse than the first after easing restrictions too soon, experts have warned.
Florida-based infectious disease expert Dena Grayson told 60 Minutes she had grave concerns Australia may have undone its good work by relaxing lockdown measures as the country heads into winter.
‘Your country’s done a fabulous job of getting your hands around this virus and just as you’re… entering flu season, and you’re not having a lot of new cases, my worry is you let your foot off the brake and so many people will die,’ she said.
‘This virus is very, very contagious, and I think you’re going to see new cases really soar.
‘You’re left with these terrible choices: do you stay locked down with economic disaster or do you try to open up too early?’
Dr Grayson said 60 percent of infections were in people who had no symptoms, and urged Australia to test, test and test some more – and to hire an army of contact tracers.
Another dire warning came from the COVID-19-stricken island of Hokkaido, Japan.
Japanese academic Kazuto Suzuki said early success plus complacency put his home back under emergency lockdown 26 days after its governor lifted restrictions.
Pictured: Anti-lockdown protester Fanos Panayides detained by police outside Parliament House, Melbourne, on Sunday. Businesses are keen to end restrictions but experts warn the second wave could be far greater and more deadly than the first, if easing is too quick
The Japanese island of Hokkaido was struck by a second coronavirus wave 14 times as bad as the first after lifting its lockdown too early. Pictured: People in Sapporo, Hokkaido in February
Infections jumped by nearly a thousand percent just week after restrictions relaxed and Hokkaido now has more than 14 times as many cases as when the first state of emergency was called.
‘They wanted to have a freedom back,’ said Professor Suzuki from the Public Policy School of Hokkaido University.
‘Don’t take the lockdown for granted.’
Professor Suzuki said lifting the state of emergency sent the wrong message.
‘It is extremely dangerous because one day this asymptomatic person will infect others, and the power of transmission of this virus is extremely powerful,’ he told 60 Minutes.
Hokkaido University professor Kazuto Suzuki (pictured) warned Australia not to take the lockdowns for granted as asymptomatic transmission made the virus extremely infectious
The mountainous island prefecture of 5.3 million people was the first Japanese area to suffer a major coronavirus outbreak.
The first person to bring the virus in was a tourist from Wuhan, China, on January 28.
A month later, there were 66 people infected and Hokkaido Governor Naomichi Suzuki declared a state of emergency.
Schools, restaurants and businesses shut. The people all complied even though it was not compulsory, devastating the two biggest industries of tourism and agriculture.
By mid-March, the lockdown was working.
New cases appeared only sporadically with none on some days and just single digits on others.
Governor Suzuki decided on March 19 to end the state of emergency and lift the restrictions to ease the economic pain.
Hokkaido residents were asked to continue restricting social interaction, but they couldn’t help celebrating the end of three weeks’ confinement.
Professor Suzuki said lifting the state of emergency sent the message that the threat was gone.
A man wears a facemask in Melbourne’s CBD on Saturday. Experts say the high number of asymptomatic spreaders who breathe the virus out from their mouths in tiny droplets means face masks should be used in public places – especially public transport – to stop transmission
People took to the streets and cafes – and worse, Japanese from other areas travelled in bringing the virus with them.
This sparked a deadly second wave, far bigger than the first, and by April 14 the governor was forced to declare a second state of emergency.
As of May 8, Hokkaido had 927 confirmed cases and 48 deaths according to data website Statista – that is more than 14 times more cases than when the first state of emergency was called.
Businesses there are now preparing for the long haul, preferring a consistent set of rules than a confusing cycle of lockdowns and easings.
Hokkaido has a population of 5.3million people had been an exemplary standard in virus management before they lifted their lockdown too soon and got hit by a deadly second wave
Hokkaido Governor Naomichi Suzuki (right) calling the first state of emergency on February 28 (pictured). After lifting it on March 19, he was forced to reinstate it on April 14
Australia now has minimal new infections daily and like Hokkaido before it, is looking to open up.
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 6,939
New South Wales: 3,053
Western Australia: 552
South Australia: 439
Australian Capital Territory: 107
Northern Territory: 29
TOTAL CASES: 6,939
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy warned Australians on Sunday to keep up social distancing and hand hygiene as restrictions are eased.
‘If people don’t do it, we could get widespread community transmission again – that second wave that we’ve talked about, but none of us want to get,’ he told media on Sunday.
‘If you are going to a shopping centre to buy something, go and buy something, but don’t hang around the shopping centre for half-an-hour mingling for no purpose – go home.’
‘If you are arriving at a shopping centre and you find a crowd at an escalator not wanting to practise social distancing or crowding together, don’t go in – leave – come back later.’
‘If you see someone not practising social distancing or behaving irresponsibly, tell them. If a lift opens and you find it’s full of people, don’t get in.’
‘The more each individual Australian takes it upon themselves to behave in this new normal way, the more courageous governments are going to be about relaxing regulations,’ he said.
Medical experts have warned that it’s the coronavirus sufferers who show no symptoms that make face masks vital especially as lockdowns lift.
‘This makes it particularly difficult to suppress transmission in the community,’ said Ben Cowling, head of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Hong Kong.
‘But if everybody is wearing face masks, that would mean infected and asymptomatic people are also wearing masks. That could help to reduce the amount of virus which gets into the environment and potentially causes infections,’ he told the BBC.
Professor Cowling recently took part in a study on the effectiveness of face masks to prevent the spread of viruses similar to Sars-Cov-2, including a mild coronavirus and influenza.
The virus comes out of people’s mouth and nose in tiny droplets when they talk, laugh and breathe, hanging in the air for hours and falling onto surfaces where it is picked up by others.
Anti-lockdown protesters flock to the streets of Melbourne
Ten people have been arrested for breaching the Victorian government’s lockdown rules and clashing with police at a rally.
About a hundred people gathered at the steps of state parliament on Sunday to protest against 5G, vaccinations, Victoria’s lockdown restrictions and what they called the ‘coronavirus conspiracy’.
The protest turned unruly when police began separating protesters who were breaking social distancing and lockdown laws.
Footage on social media shows protesters clashing with Victoria Police, who confirmed 10 people, including two of the event’s organisers, were arrested.
The majority of those arrested were fined for failing to comply with the lockdown laws and will likely face a $1600 fine each while three offenders are expected to be charged with assaulting a police officer.
Protesters gather outside Parliament House in Melbourne on Sunday
Another protester is also expected to be charged for allegedly throwing a bottle at police.
All offenders were released pending summons.
A police spokeswoman confirmed capsicum sprayed spray was used during the arrest of one person and that the crowd dispersed shortly after.
A police officer, meanwhile, has been taken to hospital for what is believed to be a rib injury.
‘Police are continuing to investigate the events of today in order to identify other people who were in attendance,’ the spokeswoman said.
‘Once individuals are identified, we will be issuing them with fines and will consider any other enforcement options.’
Police officers detain a man as protesters gather outside Parliament House
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said a number of conspiracy theorists had contacted him, describing their views as ‘nonsense’.
‘It is complete nonsense. 5G has got nothing at all to do with coronavirus,’ he said in Canberra.
‘Similarly, I understand people have the right to protest, but they should not be breaching those social distancing rules and if they are, they should be held to account.’
Victoria has been in a state of emergency since March 16, with stage three restrictions designed to stop the spread of coronavirus in place.
Fanos Panayides, a speaker at an anti-lockdown rally, is arrested on the steps of Victoria’s state parliament
Under the restrictions, Victorians are only supposed to leave their homes for food and supplies, medical care and caregiving, exercise, and work or education.
Premier Daniel Andrews indicated on Friday he would be making a series of announcements regarding the lifting of restrictions throughout the week.
It came after Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed a plan for a gradual return to normality, but it is up to the states when to implement the measures.
The study’s authors found a standard surgical face mask considerably reduced the amount of virus escaping on the breath of infected people.
‘Face masks could help to reduce transmission in the community particularly if used in public transport and crowded areas,’ he told the BBC.
Researchers at the US National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland have found that even a damp, homemade face mask can reduce the amount of infectious droplets emitted.
Australia is now looking at easing restrictions as new infections are down to single digits per day or even none at all in many states – the same level as Hokkaido when it reopened too soon
Business urged to stagger hours for coronavirus lockdown easing
Businesses are being urged to stagger the times employees start and finish work ahead of a planned easing of COVID-19 restrictions over the coming months.
Authorities have begun planning for the resumption of normal trading with the Commonwealth and state governments readying for the associated influx of people on public transport.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday mapped out the national cabinet’s planned three-step easing of restrictions and set an aspirational July target for the return of most employees to their workplaces.
National Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy says authorities will convene a meeting on Monday to discuss the gradual return of commuters to public transport.
He said increased numbers on buses and trains would create challenges around maintaining social distancing.
‘One of the most important things is to reduce the density,’ Professor Murphy said on Sunday.
‘Social distancing is not possible when you are crowded. We are very keen, for those who are working from home to continue working from home for the time being.’
Public transport agencies have already introduced COVID-19 safety measures, including increased cleaning of carriages, and Prof Murphy said hand sanitiser would need to be supplied for commuters.
He said the government was looking at ways to spread out passengers.
‘But we are also keen for employers and employees to look at staggered start and finish times,’ he said.
‘I think we have to think about a very different way of people may be starting at work, some starting at seven o’clock, some starting at 10 o’clock and people finishing at different times.
‘We have to think differently about that so there is a lot of planning going on in the meantime.
‘The message – go back to work. But if it works for you and your employer, continue to work from home.’
ANU Associate Professor Kamalini Lokuge, an expert in public health responses to humanitarian crises said mass testing was key now to finding any new cases.
She also said Australia’s welfare safety net was crucial as it enabled people to be able to undertake lockdown measures while still being able to feed their families.
Melbourne University epidemiologist James McCaw said the level of herd immunity needed to slow the virus was at least 50 percent.
Experts have previously warned that contracting the virus is no guarantee of immunity and it has recurred in people who have seemingly recovered.
Professor McCaw said Australia was not through the worst of it yet but at the very start of a long marathon.
‘This is a little bit like a marathon. It feels like we’re way into it but we’re only a kilometre in. That first kilometre is hard, I hope the next 41 aren’t so difficult but there’s a lot of kilometers to go,’ he told 60 Minutes.
Australia’s coronavirus tally rose by 12 to 6,939 cases nationwide on Sunday.
Worldwide confirmed cases soared past 4.1 million with 280,564 dead, 2,388,352 sick and 1,445,980 recovered, according to the Worldometers website which tracks coronavirus statistics.
The US continued to have the largest number of cases at 1,347,318 with 80,040 dead from the disease which has been recently found to cause a clotting disorder in the blood.
When you can go for brunch state by state: Your complete guide to when cafés and restaurants will open
Cafes and restaurants are set to slowly reopen over the next few weeks with some states easing COVID-19 restrictions sooner than others.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Friday a three-step plan to relax restrictions by July.
National baseline rules will be relaxed in a staggered rollback, with less risky activities such as dining at cafes and restaurants to be restarted sooner than others.
However state government will decide when it is appropriate for eateries to reopen.
People living in Queensland, Northern Territory and South Australia, will be allowed to head out to brunch a lot sooner than those living in Victoria and New South Wales.
Cafes and restaurants are set to slowly reopen over the next few weeks with some states easing restrictions sooner than others
People living in Queensland, Northern Territory and South Australia, will be allowed to head out to brunch a lot sooner than other states like Victoria and New South Wales
The Sunshine State announced dining at restaurants, pubs, clubs, RSLs and cafes will resume on May 16.
Although it is good news for food lovers, diners will be limited to 10 people at any one time.
Though the limit will be raised for outback dining with the maximum capacity set at 20.
‘The [outback] mayors have been onto me and I have to acknowledge that this is a different situation to the rest of Queensland because there are no quarantine cases,’ Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.
Ms Palaszczuk noted the reopening would pave the way to job renewal and slowly repair a devastated hospitality industry.
‘There are thousands of people working in those industries and people and businesses want certainty, so this gradual return to some form of normality in our post-COVID world would look a bit different but we will back each other and get through this together,’ she said.
The Northern Territory proved it was ahead of the pack and eased stage one restrictions at the start of May – this allowed limited outdoor activities.
The state frontrunner has now set its sights on lifting stage two restrictions next week.
Restaurants, bars, clubs, cafes and pubs will finally reopen their doors on May 15.
That also includes consuming food or drinks in a shopping centre food court.
With the reopening comes certain conditions such as a two hour time limit for patrons and 1.5metre social distancing.
Chief Minister Michael Gunner encouraged patrons to help revitalise the state’s economy.
‘Territorians have [a] responsibility to get out, buy local, back a local, and do it safely,’ he said.
‘They need you to buy from them, so a meal and a parmy, a beer and a parmy, that’s the order.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Friday a three-step plan to relax restrictions by July
Only restaurants and cafes with outdoor dining will reopen from May 11.
Alcohol will not be served to patrons and a cap of 10 people will be set in the venues.
A limit of one person per four square metre restriction will also remain in place.
South Australian premier Steven Marshall noted the state would be pushing for stage two rollbacks as soon as possible.
‘Many [cafes and restaurants] have had outdoor tables and chairs which they’ve had to lock up, we’re allowing this in the first instance,’ he said.
‘I think it will be a welcome increase to allow patrons to sit at outdoor dining.
‘I can’t imagine people will be satisfied with this for too long, that’s why we’ve already started discussions with industries and in particular, pubs and clubs, for [stage] two so we can get them up and running.’
Tasmania will begin to ease restrictions on eateries from May 18.
Pubs, clubs, hotels, restaurants and RSLs will open their doors to the public, though with similar restrictions to other states.
A cap will be set at 10 people, social distancing will be enforced and only table service will be provided.
‘This is a sector of our community that has been hit hard,’ Premier Peter Gutwein said.
‘We will continue to march to the beat of our own drum here in Tasmania.
‘If we find we can’t move on something based on Public Health advice, then we won’t.
‘Through all those three stages, I would encourage vulnerable people with underlying health conditions to limit their exposure to other people and stay home where they can.’
The Sunshine state announced dining at restaurants, pubs, clubs, RSLs and cafes will resume on May 15 (stock image)
National baseline rules will be relaxed in a staggered rollback, with less risky activities such as dining at cafes and restaurants to be restarted sooner than others
Western Australia has taken a slower approach as cafes are still only allowed to serve takeaway to its customers.
Food courts and food vans are also limited to takeaway services.
Though Premier Mark McGowan will provide an update on easing restrictions on Sunday.
Australian Capital Territory
The Australian Capital Territory has not yet indicated when restaurants will resume operations.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr suggested any changes would be made in line with neighbouring states Victoria and New South Wales.
‘Were we to reopen bars and restaurants, but they remained closed in NSW, then we would get quite an influx of people into the territory and that would lead to an increased risk,’ Mr Barr said in the past.
Concessions have been made on gatherings, with groups of up to 10 people allowed to meet indoors.
Though Mr Barr has warned this is no excuse to throw a party.
‘The easing of restrictions on gatherings is not, it is absolutely not, a licence for people from multiple households to have a party,’ he said.
‘No house parties. If people do that, they will undermine all that we have achieved as a community over the last several months.’
The new ‘roadmap’ – which will be reviewed every three weeks – will only guide state and territory leaders, who will then decide when to implement each stage in their own jurisdictions
New South Wales will not relax any coronavirus restrictions until next week, Premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured Friday) said
No announcement has yet been made as to when eateries will reopen.
Victorians will have to wait until Monday when Premier Daniel Andrew is expected to give more details.
‘I know, I know that everyone would love to be back at the pub, or at a cafe, or at a restaurant … I get it, I understand it,’ Mr Andrews said.
‘We’ve come too far to let everything back because we’re frustrated,’ Mr Andrews said.
‘I think Victorians will stick with these rules, as challenging as they are, as frustrating as they can be, because they know they’re working.
‘When I have more to say about cafes and restaurants, about gatherings, inside and outside, when I have more to say about all the elements of that top line in that three-stage framework, I will do that. And that process will begin on Monday.’
New South Wales
People in New South Wales will also have to find other ways to pass the time with no announcements made on lifting restrictions further.
Following the national cabinet announcement on Friday, premier Gladys Berejiklian released a statement to provide further details about the restrictions.
‘The NSW Government has already eased a number of restrictions listed under the first stage of the plan.
‘As I stated earlier this week – there will be no further change to restrictions in NSW this week.
‘NSW will continue to keep our citizens updated on our path forward.’
WHERE TO GO FOR HELP
* Tax relief: if you have a debt to the tax office you can’t pay call the Australian Tax Office emergency support infoline on 1800 806 218
* Unexpected bills for essentials: don’t go to high-interest payday lenders. No-interest and low-interest loans of up to $3000 available from Good Shepherd Microfinance.
* Utility providers will negotiate a payment plan to keep the power, water and gas on – ring them
* Banks will make hardship provisions available if you are having trouble paying your mortgage – call your lender
* Set up a myGov account at my.gov.au so you can access welfare help online
* Go to Services Australia and use the payment and service finder to work out what help you can get
* Access up to $10,000 of superannuation early this financial year, see here
* The first $750 coronavirus supplement will go to those registered as on income support and eligible between 12 March and 13 April. The second $750 payment will go to those eligible and registered on 10 July. Check here
* The new coronavirus supplement of $550 per fortnight is being added to several welfare payments – check if you are eligible here
* A list of Services Australia phone numbers for different information lines from crisis payments to low income health care cards is here
* Visit the Services Australia and register for a Jobseeker Payment or call to register on 132 850
* Centrelink advance payments are available in some circumstances
* You can get rent assistance from Services Australia if you are on a JobSeeker payment.
* National Debt Hotline for free advice and support for those in financial difficulty 1800 007 007
* Ask your employer to register on the ATO website ato.gov.au to keep your job going during the coronavirus shutdown so you can get $1500/fortnight