Prime Minister Scott Morrison has just held a press conference relaying the outcomes of today’s COAG meeting with state premiers, which announced that public gatherings of more than 500 people would be banned from Monday. Prime Minister Morrison stated that the government’s goal is to slow the transmission of the virus throughout the community in order to ensure the health system is not overrun.
However, in doing so, Morrison stated that schools and universities will continue to operate as normal.
I firmly believe this is a mistake. Given we are only two weeks from school holidays, Scott Morrison should have announced an immediate closure of schools and a four-week school holiday period. Most schools (let alone universities) have many hundreds of pupils and teachers, meaning they are effectively large public gatherings. As such, they need to be closed to slow the transmission of the virus.
In any event, below is the full COAG comminque pertaining to the virus:
Protecting Australians from the impact of coronavirus
Australia is experiencing the impacts of coronavirus, but we are one of the best-prepared countries in the world, thanks to the early actions of all levels of government. Since January 2020, Australian governments have been working together to develop, implement and coordinate strategies to slow the spread of the virus, including through strengthening our world leading health system and implementing border measures. Today, leaders committed to leveraging their combined resources to slow the spread of the virus and ensure Australia stays ahead of the curve in minimising the impact of coronavirus on the Australian community and economy.
With the wellbeing and safety of Australians being their highest priority, leaders will continue to manage the risk of the virus based on the best and latest evidence and medical advice. The new National Partnership Agreement on COVID-19 Response, signed by all leaders today, is a 50-50 shared funding deal between the Commonwealth and the states and territories that will ensure the capacity of our health system to effectively assess, diagnose and treat people with coronavirus in a way that minimises the spread of the virus in the community and protects our most vulnerable. As part of the deal, the Commonwealth will deliver an immediate $100 million advance payment, on a population basis, to the states and territories to prepare the health system.
Coronavirus has been declared a global pandemic and Australia is well prepared, including across non-health sectors. On 25 February 2020, at the request of the Chief Medical Officer, the Australian Government activated the Emergency Response Plan for Communicable Disease Incidents of National Significance: National Arrangements (National CD Plan). The National CD Plan, developed and endorsed by all jurisdictions in 2018, outlines how non-health sectors (such as police, childcare, schools, transport and essential utilities) will support the health sector response. Today, leaders welcomed the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s (AHPPC’s) development of a risk based decision-making tool for mass gatherings. They agreed to work in a co-ordinated way and have regard to the advice of the AHPPC, should the need arise to adjust services in response to coronavirus. All decisions will be proportionate to the risk.
COAG agreed to commission real-time, transparent protocols, underpinned by advice from the AHPPC and working through the National Coordination Mechanism, to support a consistent approach to containment and preparedness for coronavirus. These protocols will include management of mass gatherings, school closures, health management in remote communities and public transport, with decisions on applying the protocols resting with states and territories. COAG further agreed that the AHPPC advice will have the status of COAG advice, and to implement and follow the advice, as necessary.
While coronavirus is first and foremost a health crisis, it is having significant economic impacts. Australia’s strong economy means we are well-positioned to respond to the economic impacts of the virus. Our economy has demonstrated its resilience during past shocks and we are in our 29th consecutive year of economic growth. All Australian governments will play their part in delivering complementary, targeted and proportionate responses to the economic impacts of coronavirus. Leaders noted presentations from the Governor of the Reserve Bank and the Secretary of the Australian Treasury, and accepted advice that current fiscal settings in jurisdictions should be adjusted to mitigate the economic impact on Australians and best position the nation for recovery.