The National Cabinet met today to take further decisions to save lives, and to save livelihoods.
The Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy provided an update on the measures underway, the latest data and medical advice in relation to COVID-19.
There are over 6,670 confirmed cases in Australia and sadly 78 people have died.
It is clear that the suppression strategy for the virus is working. National Cabinet again noted data that confirms the measures put in place to suppress the virus have largely been successful in slowing and reversing the growth of cases in Australia, to ensure our health system has the capability to manage the epidemic.
It is estimated that approximately 93 per cent of all symptomatic cases are detected in Australia. Australia has the highest reported detection rate in the world.
Australia’s border and quarantine arrangements have successfully reduced transmission of COVID-19 from overseas arrivals, with the focus now on containing domestic outbreaks in local communities through rapid responses. The infection rate of imported cases is now 99 per cent less than local cases, due to these measures.
Domestic outbreaks if left uncontained have the potential to spread fast and overwhelm local health systems. This highlights the importance of enhanced testing, tracing and rapid containment health responses when outbreaks occur. Domestic transmission of asymptomatic cases and those with mild symptoms is a priority for National Cabinet.
As a next step in our response, National Cabinet agreed to expand testing criteria across Australia to all people with mild symptoms of COVID-19. This will ensure cases are quickly identified.
Further work to plan for enhanced monitoring, testing and tracing is underway through the development of the Pandemic Health Intelligence Plan and an Australian National Disease Surveillance Plan sitting under the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19).
National Cabinet further passed a motion of condolence to the Victorian police officers killed in the line of service.
National Cabinet agreed to meet again on 1 May 2020.
For COVID-19 suppression strategies to be effective, Reff (the number of people a single case infects on average) needs to be less than 1.0.
The results of the nowcasting pandemic model produced by the University of Melbourne (Doherty Institute) continue to look very encouraging.
National Cabinet received an updated briefing on new modelling with the Reff now below 1.0 across all states and territories, except for Tasmania. Australia’s case detection rate is 93 per cent and projections of case numbers are below lower bound modelled estimates.
The modelling has been refined, reflecting the success in reducing transmission from overseas arrivals and local outbreaks. Without mitigation, local outbreaks have the potential to significantly increase case numbers and overwhelm health systems.
Updated statement on schools
National Cabinet agreed with updated Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) advice on schools.
AHPPC noted that among many measures, smaller class sizes might reduce the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools.
AHPPC does not believe however, that the ‘venue density rule’ of no more than one person per four square metres is appropriate or practical in classrooms or corridors, nor maintaining 1.5 metre between students during classroom activities.
This clarification complements AHPPC’s advice on reducing the potential risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools (published 16 April).
AHPPC continues to note that there is very limited evidence of transmission between children in the school environment and population screening overseas has shown very low incidence of positive cases in school-aged children.
In Australia, 2.4 per cent of confirmed cases have been in children aged between 5 and 18 years of age (as at 6am, 22 April 2020). AHPPC believes that adults in the school environment should practice room density measures (such as in staff rooms) given the greater risk of transmission between adults.’
National Cabinet noted the AHPPC advice that wearing of face masks by the general population is not currently recommended. Should significant community transmission in Australia occur, mask wearing in public is an available option.
Aged Care Response
National Cabinet again discussed the outbreaks of COVID-19 in residential aged care facilities and the critical importance of balancing infection prevention and control measures against the needs and best interests of residents.
National Cabinet stressed the AHPPC advice that it is not acceptable for any facility to put in place restrictions beyond the principles agreed on 17 March 2020. These include complete lockdowns or banning all visits from carers and families, other than during a specified facility outbreak.
Facilities are best placed to know the appropriate levels of infection control and prevention to implement, in consultation with the relevant public health units and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission. The Commonwealth Government will continue to monitor the situation and will take steps, if necessary, to require facilities to seek an exemption from the Commission before implementing additional restrictions.
Sport and recreational activities
National Cabinet agreed that the AHPPC will develop, for consideration, key principles for the recommencement of community and professional sport, and recreational activities.
National Safe Workplace Principles*
National Cabinet agreed to develop nationally-consistent, industry-specific work health and safety guidance on COVID-19, accessible via a central hub provided by Safe Work Australia.
The guidance will be developed and endorsed through Safe Work Australia, working with its members (the Commonwealth, states and territories, employer groups, and unions). The guidance will be housed on a revamped Safe Work Australia website.
Australian workplaces will be able to use this central hub of WHS guidance and tools to help manage health and safety risks posed by COVID-19.
To support the development of nationally-consistent guidance, National Cabinet agreed the ‘National COVID-19 Safe Workplace Principles’ (as follows).
*COVID-19 workplace principles
Recognising that the COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency, that all actions in respect of COVID-19 should be founded in expert health advice and that the following principles operate subject to the measures agreed and implemented by Governments through the National Cabinet process
1. All workers, regardless of their occupation or how they are engaged, have the right to a healthy and safe working environment.
2. The COVID-19 pandemic requires a uniquely focused approach to work health and safety (WHS) as it applies to businesses, workers and others in the workplace.
3. To keep our workplaces healthy and safe, businesses must, in consultation with workers, and their representatives, assess the way they work to identify, understand and quantify risks and to implement and review control measures to address those risks.
4. As COVID-19 restrictions are gradually relaxed, businesses, workers and other duty holders must work together to adapt and promote safe work practices, consistent with advice from health authorities, to ensure their workplaces are ready for the social distancing and exemplary hygiene measures that will be an important part of the transition.
5. Businesses and workers must actively control against the transmission of COVID-19 while at work, consistent with the latest advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, including considering the application of a hierarchy of appropriate controls where relevant.
6. Businesses and workers must prepare for the possibility that there will be cases of COVID-19 in the workplace and be ready to respond immediately, appropriately, effectively and efficiently, and consistent with advice from health authorities.
7. Existing state and territory jurisdiction of WHS compliance and enforcement remains critical. While acknowledging individual variations across WHS laws mean approaches in different parts of the country may vary, to ensure business and worker confidence, a commitment to a consistent national approach is key, including a commitment to communicating what constitutes best practice in prevention, mitigation and response to the risks presented by COVID-19.
8. Safe Work Australia (SWA), through its tripartite membership, will provide a central hub of WHS guidance and tools that Australian workplaces can use to successfully form the basis of their management of health and safety risks posed by COVID-19.
9. States and territories ultimately have the role of providing advice, education, compliance and enforcement of WHS and will leverage the use of the SWA central hub in fulfilling their statutory functions.
10. The work of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission will complement the work of SWA, jurisdictions and health authorities to support industries more broadly to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic appropriately, effectively and safely.