Coronavirus (COVID-19) Critical Information - Monday March 16th Featured Image

National Cabinet Response to Coronavirus Decisions on Mass Gatherings, Cruise Ships and Self isolation for Overseas Travellers

A significant step-up to Australia’s national response to the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has been endorsed by the National Cabinet, comprising the Prime Minister, State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers.

Based on the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), the National Cabinet agreed that our core objective now is to slow the outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia by taking additional steps to reduce community transmission. We must ensure our health system can care for the most vulnerable, in particular the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.

To help stay ahead of the curve, the Australian Government will impose a universal precautionary self-isolation requirement on all international arrivals, effective from 11:59pm Sunday 15 March 2020.

This means that all people - whether they be citizens, residents or visitors - will be required to self-isolate for 14 days upon arrival in Australia. Enhanced screening for arrivals will remain in place to identify anyone arriving sick or with symptoms of COVID-19.

Arrangements will be made for passengers transiting through Australia to the Pacific Island countries or transiting after arriving off of cruise ships. Limited exemptions will apply for flight crews, who will be expected to monitor their health and practice social distancing while they are in Australia.

The Australian Government will also ban cruise ships from foreign ports (including round trip international cruises originating in Australia) from arriving at Australian ports for an initial 30 days, effective from 11:59pm Sunday 15 March 2020.

This restriction will help avoid the risk of a cruise ship arriving with a mass outbreak of the virus and putting significant pressure on our health system.

Arrangements will be made for certain cruise ships already in transit to enable Australian citizens and permanent residents to get off those ships.

The National Cabinet also endorsed the advice of the AHPPC to further introduce social distancing measures. This includes the requirement that non-essential, organised public gatherings of more than 500 people should not occur.

At this stage, these measures do not include schools, universities and workplaces, or prevent the operation of public transport. However, the principle of social distancing should still apply in these settings. For example, assemblies and lectures housing more than 500 students in schools and universities should be avoided.

Specifically the National Cabinet agreed that there is no requirement for schools to close at this time.

Further advice on these requirements is available at: https://www.health.gov.au/committees-and-groups/australian-health-protection-principal-committee-ahppc

The National Cabinet also activated the second stage of the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus, which enables governments to undertake targeted action to the COVID-19 outbreak and ensures that resources are properly allocated where needed and the risks to vulnerable people in the community are mitigated.

These actions include changes to intensive care unit configurations, social isolation, fever clinics and restrictions on mass gatherings. 

The National Cabinet will meet again this week to consider further advice from the AHPPC on events held indoors and in other closed spaced environments and further advice on  actions to further protect aged care facilities.

All the actions we are putting in place are based on advice form Australia’s leading medical experts and are designed to protect Australia.  

The National Cabinet continues to urge all Australians to play their role in reducing the spread of COVID-19 through personal social distancing and hygiene measures.  Further information can be found at www.health.gov.au

 

National Cabinet for Coronavirus Response

The Council of Australian Governments agreed on 13 March 2020 to establish a National Cabinet to coordinate Australia’s Coronavirus Response across State and Territory Governments and the Commonwealth Government (‘National Cabinet’).

The National Cabinet will consider and coordinate national Coronavirus preparedness and response measures to deal with the health, economic, societal and public safety impacts of the virus. It will aim to ensure agreed measures are implemented and communicated as consistently and effectively as possible nation-wide.

The National Cabinet will comprise the Prime Minister, State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers.

It will be supported by the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and his State and Territory counterparts.

The National Cabinet will provide strategic oversight of, and be supported by, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPCC) and the National Coordination Mechanism (NCM).

The National Cabinet will meet weekly and as often as required.

 

AHPPC Decision on Social Distancing including Mass Gatherings

Australian Government’s have already taken significant steps to contain the virus and to delay community transmission in Australia. Our core objective now is to slow the spread of coronavirus in Australia by taking additional steps to delay the impact and slow the rate of growth of the virus; to flatten the curve.

Specifically measures are designed to slow the spread of the disease in at risk groups - specifically the elderly and vulnerable communities. 

The National Cabinet endorsed new advice from the Australian Health Protection Principals Committee (AHPPC) to introduce restrictions on mass gatherings and recommend social distancing measures. 

From Monday 16 March 2020, the National Cabinet agreed that non-essential, static mass gatherings of more than 500 people should not occur.

These measures to restrict gatherings should not prevent the operation of essential functions including schools, universities and workplaces, or prevent the operation of public transport. However, the principle of social distancing should still apply in these settings. For example, non‑essential assemblies and lectures housing more than 500 students in schools and universities should be avoided.

In respect of schools the National Cabinet universally agreed that there is no requirement for schools to close at this time. The AHPPC will provide further advice to the National Government by Friday 20 March 2020.

Management of venues and events will continue to be a matter for organisers and states and territories.

In addition AHPPC believes that social distancing measures are now required and will need to be introduced progressively to reduce disruption. There is increasing international evidence now that suggests very early introduction of some social distancing measures has the most benefit in delaying transmission.

Further advice on these requirements is available at: https://www.health.gov.au/committees-and-groups/australian-health-protection-principal-committee-ahppc

AHPPC will provide advice to the National Cabinet on the issue of events in closed space environments and additional advice on aged care facilities in detail on 17 March 2020. This advice will be shared with the National Coordinating Mechanism to enable non-health advice to be provided in parallel to the public health advice.

The measures will be reviewed on a regular basis by the Government based on advice of the AHPPC.

In respect of social distancing, the AHPPC recommends that there are a range of personal social distancing and hygiene measures that everyone can use to help our national response to COVID-19. These include refraining from hand shakes and other close contact and individuals standing 1.5 metres apart from each other where ever possible.

However the most important action is to practice good hand hygiene. 

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitiser that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.
  • Stay home if you are sick and don’t expose others. If you are unwell with flu-like symptoms, do not go outside your property or home, do not go to work, school or shops unless it is essential.
  • Get vaccinated for influenza this season when it becomes available. It is not yet known whether COVID-19 could significantly increase the risks of influenza infection.

 

Activation of the Health Emergency Response Plan for Coronavirus

The National Cabinet activated the second stage of the Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus, which enables governments to undertake targeted action to the COVID-19 outbreak and ensures that resources are properly allocated where needed and the risks to susceptible people in the community are mitigated. 

Actions under the plan include changes to intensive care unit configurations, social isolation, fever clinics and restrictions on mass gatherings. 

https://www.health.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/2020/02/australian-health-sector-emergency-response-plan-for-novel-coronavirus-covid-19_2.pdf

 

Universal Precautionary Self-Isolation Requirement

We want to slow the outbreak of COVID-19 in Australia by taking steps to reduce community transmission.

Given a high proportion of cases in Australia continue to be imported from other countries, the Government is taking decisive action to reduce this risk.

The National Cabinet agreed that effective from 11:59pm on Sunday 15 March 2020, all international arrivals to Australia will be required to undertake a precautionary self-isolation for 14 days, regardless whether they are citizens, residents or otherwise.

This means returning to and staying in your home or in your hotel and not going to public places including work, school, childcare, university or public gatherings.

There is clear guidance as to what self-isolation means on the health.gov.au website.

This is a precautionary measure and the risk of international arrivals remains low.

Certain case-by-case arrangements will be put in place under the authority of the Australian Border Force Commissioner in the case of people transiting Australia while returning to their home. Arrangements will be made for passengers transiting Australia to the Pacific Island countries or transiting after arriving off of cruise ships. Limited exemptions will apply for flight crews, who will be expected to monitor their health and practice social distancing while they are in Australia.

Enhanced screening will continue to be undertaken at the border to identify people who are unwell or suffering from symptoms of COVID-19 and those cases will be dealt with individually.

 

Cruise Ships

The risks of passengers on cruise ships coming to or in Australia contracting COVID-19 has the potential to significantly impact on the Australian health system.

The National Cabinet agreed that to reduce the significant risk to Australia’s health system brought about by the arrival of a cruise ship with suspected cases of COVID-19 the Australian Government will implement immediate travel restrictions on cruise ships destined for the Australian border.  

Cruise ships from foreign ports (including round trip international cruises) will be banned from arriving at Australian ports for an initial 30 days.

Certain case-by-case arrangements will be put in place under the authority of the Australian Border Force Commissioner for vessels currently on the water to enable the disembarkation of Australian citizens or residents (who will be required to undertake precautionary self isolation for 14 days) and the return of other nationals to their country of residence.

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