Australian governments met today as the National Cabinet to take further action to slow the spread of coronavirus to save lives, and to save livelihoods.
We will be living with this virus for at least six months, so social distancing measures to slow the spread of this virus must be sustainable for at least that long to protect Australian lives.
We need to ensure Australia keeps functioning, to keep Australians in jobs.
The Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan Murphy provided an update on the measures underway on the latest data and medical advice in relation to coronavirus.
There are more than 5,800 confirmed cases in Australia, and more than 2,400 people have recovered from the virus. Sadly 44 people have died.
Testing keeps Australians safe. Australia has one of the most rigorous coronavirus testing systems in the world with more than 304,000 tests completed.
It is clear the epidemiology curve is beginning to flatten. But it is still too early to determine whether such movements will be significant or sustained. That’s why it’s important that all Australians continue to adhere to the social distancing measures.
Many Australians have been looking forward to an Easter holiday. National Cabinet reiterated previous advice that social distancing must continue and that Australians should stay at home and not undertake unnecessary holiday travel.
Leaders thanked all Australians who have acted responsibly and have been undertaking social distancing and isolation measures.
National Cabinet reiterated that social distancing is slowing the spread of the virus in Australia. These measures are saving lives and livelihoods. National Cabinet reminded Australians that social distancing must continue at Easter and agreed that Australians should stay at home this Easter and not undertake unnecessary holiday travel.
National Cabinet will meet again on Thursday 9 April 2020.
The National Cabinet agreed that states and territories would implement the attached mandatory Code of Conduct (the Code), including via legislation or regulation as appropriate, to implement the principles agreed on Friday 3 April. The Code builds on the draft codes submitted by landlord and tenant representative bodies in the commercial property sector.
The purpose of the Code is to impose a set of good faith leasing principles for application to commercial tenancies (including retail, office and industrial) between owners/operators/other landlords and tenants, in circumstances where the tenant is a small-medium sized business (annual turnover of up to $50 million) and is an eligible business for the purpose of the Commonwealth Government’s JobKeeper programme.
National Cabinet agreed that there would be a proportionality to rent reductions based on the tenant’s decline in turnover to ensure that the burden is shared between landlords and tenants. The Code provides a proportionate and measured burden share between the two parties while still allowing tenants and landlords to agree to tailored, bespoke and appropriate temporary arrangements that take account of their particular circumstances.
National Cabinet again noted that it expects Australian and foreign banks along with other financial institutions operating in Australia, to support landlords and tenants with appropriate flexibility as they work to implement the mandatory Code.
The Commonwealth Government is also acting as a model landlord by waiving rents for all its small and medium enterprises and not-for-profit tenants within its owned and leased property across Australia.
The Rent Relief Policy will include a mutual obligation requirement on the small and medium sized enterprises and not-for-profit tenants to continue to engage their employees through the JobKeeper initiative where eligible, and if applicable, provide rent relief to their subtenants.
Impact of coronavirus - Theoretical modelling of how the health system can respond
Australia has a world class health system, including an Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus Management Plan. The Plan includes modelling of possible scenarios of coronavirus spreading through Australia. This informs the actions taken to slow the spread and prepare the health system.
Today National Cabinet released the first set of theoretical scenario modelling undertaken to inform how Australia is preparing our health system, including our Intensive Care Units (ICUs), for coronavirus. A summary of the modelling is attached, and the modellers will release a technical paper on the data today.
National Cabinet noted that the hypothetical scenarios were commissioned in early February, when the outbreak began and prior to National Cabinet implementing measures to reduce transmission and flatten the curve including through travel restrictions and social isolation.
National Cabinet noted that the modelling is a useful tool but it does not predict the future. In the real world, we can adjust restrictions as the outbreak evolves to manage the length of the outbreak.
What the modelling has done and continues to do, is to inform Australian governments and medical experts so we can take actions to slow the spread of coronavirus and ensure our health system is prepared under a range of scenarios.
National Cabinet noted that early data suggests the existing measures in Australia are flattening the curve to a point where the health system can meet expected demand. So far only 8 percent of cases in Australia have required hospitalisation and ICU.
While the modelling does not show how the virus will move through our community, it tells us some important things including that we would have been overwhelmed if we had not reduced the number of travellers and introduced public health measures.
The modelling does not reflect the actual recent evidence of the spread of the virus in Australia and measures that the National Cabinet has announced to slow the spread of the virus.
National Cabinet will commission a next phase of the modelling that will put Australian data into the model and see how it aligns to our actual experience. This has not been an option to date given the relatively small amount of data available on community transmission of the virus in Australia. As more ‘real’ data is put into the model its accuracy improves. National Cabinet has requested the first results of this modelling include state and territory breakdowns to reflect the different stages of coronavirus transmission by jurisdiction.
The theoretical scenario modelling by the University of Melbourne (Doherty Institute) Pandemic Modelling Team finds an uncontrolled coronavirus pandemic would overwhelm our health system for many weeks. Around 89 per cent of people would catch the virus, with 38 percent requiring some medical care. ICUs would be well beyond capacity for a prolonged period.
Quarantine and isolation slow the rate of transmission. This flattens the epidemiological curve. It reduces the proportion of people who would catch the virus to 68 percent, and those needing medical care to 29 percent. While this reduces the peak demand on ICUs, the modelled expanded ICU capacity would not be enough for several weeks.
Social distancing makes it harder for the virus to spread and reduces the proportion of people infected. The modellers have looked at two levels of social distancing. With a 25 percent reduction in transmission due to social distancing, the proportion of people infected would be 38 percent with 16 percent requiring some medical care.
With a 33 per cent reduction in transmission due to social distancing, the proportion of people infected is 12 percent and only 5 percent require some medical care.
The modelling confirms that with social distancing and an expansion in ICU capacity, everyone who needs an ICU bed over the course of the pandemic could access one.
The modelling parameters further show the severity of coronavirus on different age groups based on hospitalisation and ICU admission. The results for aged groups vary significantly with the rate of hospitalisation for cases under 20 years at 0.62 percent and negligible ICU needs. For older people, coronavirus has more severe impacts with 35.8 percent of cases requiring hospitalisation for those between 70 and 79 year olds and 65.9 percent of cases for over 80 year olds.
Unlike many countries, we have an opportunity in Australia to choose how to respond from a position of relative control. We can tailor our interventions to gain the most benefit and minimise the cost to society.
National Cabinet noted the AHPPC advice on the use of Off-label Medicines for Treatment and Prophylaxis of coronavirus; Healthcare Worker Use of PPE When Caring for Suspected or Confirmed coronavirus Patients; Home Isolation; Organ Donation and Transplantation during the coronavirus Pandemic; and Rapid Point of Care Lateral Flow Devices to Detect Antibodies to SARS-COV-2.
PRIME MINISTER: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm joined by Professor Murphy, as usual.
Together we are making significant progress. Around 6,000 cases across Australia, less than 10 per cent of those coming through community transmission at this point. We have so far avoided the many thousands, if not tens of thousands, of cases that may have otherwise occurred by this point across the Australian community, and indeed the many more fatalities that could have also have occurred by this point. The daily growth rate in cases has now fallen to just a few percentage points per day. This has occurred quite rapidly. In fact, it has occurred well beyond our expectations, in the way that we have been able to bring that daily growth rate down together, and certainly ahead of what all the theoretical models would have suggested. But we must hold the course. We must lock in these gains. It is providing us with much-needed time. We have so far avoided the horror scenarios that we have seen overseas, whether it be initially in China in Wuhan, or in New York in the United States, or Italy, or Spain, or even the United Kingdom. And just on the United Kingdom, we extend our deepest concerns and expressions of support for Prime Minister Johnson at this very difficult time for him and his family. They do not have the opportunity in all of these places that we're seeing from here, that we have right here and right now. The combination of our health and economic responses is giving us the opportunity, as a National Cabinet, individual governments across Australia and, of course, at the federal level, to plan our way through and out of these crises. We have bought valuable time, but we cannot be complacent. We must keep the tension in the cord. This Easter weekend will be incredibly important. Stay at home. Failure to do so this weekend would completely undo everything we have achieved so far together, and potentially worse. So, all the things we have been asking you to do, day in, day out, they apply especially so this long weekend of the Easter weekend. When you normally may have gone out together as family and been out in public places and parks, or gone away, or wherever you might have been, that is not something you can do this Easter long weekend. We have already seen in other countries where major festivals or events or holiday periods have been the spark for significant outbreaks elsewhere in the world. I was only speaking to Prime Minister Modi yesterday, and he was recounting a similar event that occurred in India recently. And so it is very important all Australians this weekend, that you must follow these very helpful and straightforward requests that we make of you in terms of your movements this weekend.
Today, the National Cabinet met to consider a series of issues, including further reports from the expert medical panel, and Professor Murphy will take you through some of those matters shortly, as also work on the commercial tenancies code. After reviewing the data on progress, Professor Murphy stepped the National Cabinet through the academic modelling work that has been undertaken by the Doherty Institute that they will be releasing later today. Professor Murphy will take you through that modelling work very, very shortly. But I want to be clear about a couple of things first. You will have what we have. This is the modelling work that is available to the Government. It is the full complement of what we have available to us. The modelling work is theoretical. It is not based on Australian case data and does not model Australian responses. The modelling does not predict what will happen in Australia. It does not tell you how many Australians will contract the virus or how many may succumb to that virus, or how long it will last in Australia. The modelling work is based on international data. The early work that we had that I shared with Professor Kelly earlier was based mainly on data that had been extracted from the Chinese experience. This modelling data draws on a broader international data set that has been made available since that time. And what it does is it proves up the theory of flattening the curve. It confirms, based on that international data, that by taking the measures we are taking, you can make a difference. And, indeed, that is what we are experiencing here in Australia. We are on the right track. Controlling the spread, boosting the capacity of our health system, and buying time, giving us the opportunity for more choices.
National Cabinet, of course, will be seeking further modelling work to be done, that it does incorporate Australian case data and modelling of the Australian responses. But part of our modest success to date means that the number of cases, particularly those through community transmission, is still quite low, which does not present a very big case base to do a lot of that work at this stage. But we are keen to see that work broken down to state level jurisdictions because, of course, the experience in different states and the capacities of their health systems are different in each jurisdiction. So, the National Cabinet fully understands the limitations of this work. And so for those who might have thought today they were going to have predictions on these things, that is not what is being presented today. And I would urge those who are reporting on it not to present it in that light. It would be misleading. But it will help us work through into the future this type of work, particularly when we get more of the Australian case data incorporated into this modelling. It will help us plan the way out.
For now, and certainly over the weeks ahead, though, the lesson is simple, and that is that we must continue to do what we are doing. That is how we get through this. But there is still quite a journey ahead. So, we need to just continue to adjust and adapt. Today the AHPPC considered and put forward a number of recommendations to National Cabinet, and again I will ask Professor Murphy to take you through those. But I do want to run you through very briefly the decision today on the commercial tenancies code. Now, as you know, a key part of our Government's strategy at a federal level, working with the states and territories, is what has been called the hibernation strategy. And what that means is being able to preserve as much of the foundations and pillars of our economy through this time to enable the economy to rebuild and grow on the other side. That means keeping the jobs, it means keeping the businesses, it means keeping the tenancies in place, it means keeping the loans in place, keeping the credit lines open, to ensure that the liabilities that are established, or protecting against insolvencies and bankruptcies, so on the other side of these crises the economy will be able to rebuild and rebound again. And the commercial tenancies actions are very important.
Now, I want to thank very much the states and territories, in particular the treasurers of the states and territories who have been working keenly on this issue over these past 10 days or so. I also want to thank the many industry players who fed into the work of this code, both tenants and landlords alike. And it is agreed by National Cabinet today that a mandatory code will be legislated and regulated as is appropriate in each state and territory jurisdiction. That mandatory code will apply to tenancies where the tenant or landlord is eligible for the JobKeeper Program, so that defines a tenant or a landlord who would be in a position of distress, where they have a turnover of $50 million or less. So, the code is designed to support those small and medium-sized enterprises, be they a tenant or indeed a landlord. The code brings together a set of good-faith leasing principles. Landlords must not terminate the lease or draw on a tenant's security. Likewise, tenants must honour the lease. Landlords will be required to reduce rent proportionate to the trading reduction in the tenant's business, through a combination - over the course of the pandemic period - through a combination of waivers of rent and deferrals of rent. Waivers of rent must account for 50 per cent at least, of the reduction in the rental provided to the tenant during that period and deferrals must be covered over the balance of the lease term and in no less period than 12 months (sic: 24 months). So, if the lease term goes for three years, you can amortize the cost of lease of the rental deferral over that three year period, after the end of the pandemic period. But if the lease only has another six months to run, the tenant would have a minimum of 12 months (sic: 24 months). after the pandemic period in order to cover up on the deferrals of the rental payments. The arrangements will be overseen through a binding mediation process. All of this will be run by the states and the territories.
The point here is simple - it's the same request we made of landlords and tenants about 10 days or so ago when I stood up on this issue, and that is that they sit down and they work it out. This must be shared. Banks also must come to the table here and provide the support to the landlords and I would particularly send that message to international banks operating in Australia, who are, in many cases, providing that support, particularly to many larger landlords. We will expect those banks to be providing the same levels of support and cooperation as we are seeing from the Australian banks who are aware of these arrangements. What this does is it preserves the lease, it preserves the relationship, it keeps the tenant in their property and it keeps a tenant on the lease, which is also good for the landlord, and it preserves the lease that is in place that underpins the value of those assets. And so this is seen as a proactive, a constructive and cooperative mechanism for landlords and tenants to see this through together.
We also had a very brief discussion of schools today. That will be considered in greater detail on Thursday. Education ministers are meeting now, actually, to consider the issues around education and to report back to the National Cabinet on Thursday. Of course, Premier Andrews made his announcement this morning. Not unexpected. Schools are going back after the Easter break and the arrangements that he's announced are not dissimilar to those that are currently running in schools in New South Wales and many other states as they run into the term break. But it is important that we're looking at the educational impacts of what is occurring, with how the rest of the school year will be managed. From the Commonwealth's point of view, we are leaving those issues specifically to the states and territories to apply to each of their jurisdictions as they see appropriately. But from the Commonwealth's point of view, and particularly from a national economy point of view, then we obviously want to ensure that parents who are unable to provide a proper learning environment at home because of their work commitments, that they don't have to choose between their children's education and having a job that can feed their children, and that is not a situation we would consider tolerable. And so we thank everybody for working to that end. But, of course, the educationalists need to provide that advice about the structure of the balance of the year, and to ensure that our kids do not lose a year of their education.
So, I thank you, again, for your patience, after these National Cabinet meetings to run through all of those issues. Now I will pass over to Professor Murphy and he will also take you through the presentation.
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Thanks, Prime Minister. So, just an update, this morning's data, we had 5,844 cases, and, unfortunately, some more deaths, tragically, with 44 deaths. We still have less than a hundred people in ICU, and less than 40 people on ventilators, which is quite a low rate of serious disease. As the Prime Minister said, the thing that worries us most of all is the more than 500 people who have acquired this virus from someone in the community that doesn't know they've had it. That means that there are people walking around in our communities who could be transmitting this virus without knowing they've had it. That is why we cannot relax what we've been doing.
We have, as the Prime Minister said, seen some very impressive reductions in growth in transmission of COVID-19. But if we, in any way, lose that rigour that the Australian community has embraced, particularly over Easter, it could all come undone. We've seen what this virus can do in a cruise ship, at a wedding. It can spread to 30, 50, several hundred people very quickly. We've got to be maintaining that vigilance and all of those practices that we've all embraced in recent weeks.
As the Prime Minister said, we discussed at the National Cabinet some other AHPPC advice statements which, will be published later today. They are advice around those experimental drugs that people are thinking about, but are still not proven to be of benefit. Advice around the use of masks and other protective equipment for healthcare workers - a very sensitive issue at the moment. And we are getting more and more masks into the country as we speak. Advice around when it's appropriate for someone who tests positive to be looked after and stay in their own home under close scrutiny. Advice about organ transplantation. We've stopped doing renal transplants for the time being in Australia because of the virus risk. But we would hope to be able to resume that as soon as it's safe to do so. Also advice around those point-of-care serology tests that many of you have been reading about that have come on the market recently, and expressing some caution until we understand their role. They're not a replacement for the standard diagnostic PCR test.
So, the other thing I want to say before I go to the modelling is that a lot of people with chronic diseases, conditions other than COVID, are not currently getting medical check-ups. Our doctors are very quiet. They don't mind being quiet, but they're very worried that people are so frightened that they're not seeking medical attention. This is a really concerning issue. There are lots of people with medical conditions in the community who need regular check-ups, regular review. As you know, we've set up telehealth facilities, so you can have a telephone or a video conference with your doctor. Or you can go and see your doctor. The risk is fine as long as you ring beforehand and make arrangements, and maybe seek a telehealth consultation and go to the doctor if necessary. Please don't neglect general health conditions at the moment. That is a really important message.
So, now I’ll just go through the slides and the modelling, if we can have the, flip the next slide, please. So, basically, this modelling - two papers are ready for release, they're ready for publication. The Doherty Institute modelling team, who we have been funding for some years, actually, to do modelling as part of our pandemic preparedness. They are experts. They work on pandemic influenza. And they are publishing some stuff that they did for us early in the course of this outbreak, to help us better prepare. So, the two papers that they're publishing, one is one where they looked at some very theoretical models of a worst-case theoretical scenario to see whether we have the right tools to manage our health system capacity within potentially worst-case demand situations. The other paper is one we did looking at the risk of people travelling to Australia from other countries, based on that early China export data, so that we used that to guide us in some of the recommendations we made to government around border measures. So, the Doherty Institute will be publishing those highly technical papers later this afternoon. And those of you with scientific brains will be able to read through them. But it's very important to understand that these models are highly theoretical and they are not actual predictions, as the Prime Minister said. They're not based in any way on Australian data. In fact, they're based on data derived from countries that have had a significantly worse experience than Australia.
Can we have the next slide? So, as the Prime Minister said, we are flattening the curve. And you can see the Australian curve, which is bending, and that is a very positive sign. And you can also see the case numbers, and all of the measures that we've put in place to interrupt the transmission of this virus over recent weeks. But complacency is our biggest risk. We cannot be complacent. But this is the Australian data. This is the sort of data that we will now take, particularly the community transmission, and we will get, feed this - our modellers have got this data, and they're now doing real predictions on what might happen in different scenarios in different states, as the Prime Minister said. So, this is what the real data is.
Now we'll go and look at some of the theoretical modelling. Can we have the next slide? So, in a, when we started, before we even had many cases in Australia, the modellers looked at what would happen in this highly artificial situation if right across Australia we had diffuse seeding of this virus so that nearly 90% of the population, 23 million people, were infected at the same time. That's an incredibly unlikely scenario, that the whole country gets infected at the same time. But that, in microcosm, has been seen in some cities in the world, where we've had these huge outbreaks that have overwhelmed the system. But if that happened in Australia, you would see a very, very big peak. And you can see the most important thing we've been looking at in this health system capacity modelling was "what is our intensive care unit bed capacity?" And what is the intensive care unit bed demand? We have already planned to triple our intensive care bed capacity, and we want to make sure that we have the tools to manage the growth of serious disease with COVID-19 to within that capacity. So, in this scenario, which is what we call the unmitigated scenario, this is where you just let the virus spread, you do nothing, and treat people as they seek medical attention. And as you can see, and as has been seen in some countries, this is an horrendous scenario. It's not real, it doesn't reflect the current state in Australia, but you would see an ICU daily demand for new intensive care beds, you know, of 35,000-plus, completely beyond the realm of any country like Australia to create. So, very important message. If you had this highly artificial, very unlikely diffuse outbreak, you couldn't meet demand.
Can we have the next slide, please. So what we then did, what the modellers then did, and you can see this in the paper when you download it from their website this afternoon, is looked at, in this highly artificial, unreal scenario, what do their mathematical models tell you about the tools that we have, and that we have already used to mitigate an outbreak? So, what they've shown, firstly, in the second blip, is what happens when you do what we have been doing in every state and territory, is quarantine and isolation. Detect a case, isolate them, either in their home, in a hospital, make sure they don't spread, and quarantine all contact. That has a huge reduction in the spread of a virus, which I will show later on. But it still shows that if that's all you do, and you have this huge artificial country-wide outbreak - which, again, is unlikely, but we have to model for the worst-case scenario - you would still materially exceed ICU daily bed demand. So, then what the modellers have done is looked at a range of social distancing measures. Because we know that these social distancing measures reduce the transmissibility of the virus. We've already seen that. In fact, the modellers are already looking at early data on what's happened with social distancing in Australia. And you can see that you very significantly drop the peak. Obviously, you extend this theoretical outbreak. And I make it very clear - this is not any way a prediction of what might happen in Australia or the length of an outbreak. It's just showing what would happen in this highly theoretical Australia-wide outbreak, and how effective these measures are. That's the purpose of this graph, is to show that the measures that we have put in place successively, quarantine and isolation, and then social distancing, which we can dial up and down, have a major downward effect. So that if you do have an outbreak that is not properly controlled, you can apply these measures and we know we'll get control.
Next slide, please. So, just a couple of scenarios that you'll see in the paper when you read it. In the unmitigated scenario, you would only get about 15 percent of people who need ICU beds could access it in a conservatively increased ICU bed capacity situation. With quarantine and isolation, you get a much lower infection rate and lower hospitalisation rate. But still most people who need ICU don't get it. Once you start to introduce social distancing, and with a little bit, and then more, you can see that we very significantly reduce the infection rate, we very significantly reduce the hospitalisation rate, and we know that we could meet the ICU bed capacity. So, again, we know that, in theory, we have the tools that we can dial up to suppress an outbreak, to manage it within our resources. This is, again, not predicting what we are doing now or what's happening now. In fact, the measures we put in place now have already reduced our infectivity rate much lower than the model impact of even this most significant implementation. So, it's not a prediction, it's just showing that these tools work. Next slide. So, this is what the modelling has been, this theoretical modelling. This is what's published and you can pore all over that when it's released on the website.
But our future modelling is probably what you're more interested in and this is going to be based on real-world Australian data. So, in the real world in Australia, we don't have a diffuse outbreak across the whole country, we have focal outbreaks. The one that worries us most of all is the community transmission in Sydney. I've been saying that for a while. That's the one we're focusing on, that's why New South Wales Health has been so proactive and forward-leaning in doing a range of broadened testing in a whole lot of suburbs where they're concerned. And the early indications, as we've said, are positive, but we cannot be complacent. We must not be complacent. We must hold our line. Our current case rate is very, very low. Every death is a tragedy, but our death rate is one of the lowest in the world so far. We don't know what it will be as the disease progresses, but we are reassured to some extent about that. It's a tragedy that every one of those deaths has occurred. The community transmission is what we're going to focus our modelling on, working out what the infectivity rate, what's likely to happen, where those transmission events are occurring.
We also have to factor into our modelling other things, like we're still seeing cases in returned travellers. Our quarantine measures have been effective, but we have seen positives in people in the quarantined hotels. We have to be sure we've got enough tests to be able to test broadly, and we have to have public health mechanisms to make sure we can quarantine and isolate cases. And we're now starting to see, in the modelling data, the true impact of the wonderful uptake by the Australian community of social distancing and general hygiene measures. Some of those measures, I think, will stay with us all forever, even when this is over. I think the new approach to hand hygiene, personal hygiene, has probably changed the way a lot of us think. And that's fantastic. But we're seeing the impact of these measures in the disease now, and we will start to be able to produce and share with the public the models of what future potential scenarios in Australia are. As the Prime Minister said, we're not in any way out of trouble at the moment, but we are in a relatively strong position to keep the pressure on, make sure we're well-prepared, and plan our next approach in dealing with this virus. But the most important message from this model is we know that the tools we are using do work, and we can scale them up and down as necessary, and the data we have so far suggests that they are working. So, I'll stop there. Thank you, Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER: Thank you, Brendan. Just before I go to questions, and I'll just start here and move across the room, if that's alright. I also want to draw people's attention to the simple procedures that Safe Work Australia have set out. You can access this at swa.gov.au/coronavirus. This deals with where there may be a suspected case of COVID-19 at work. There are seven simple steps - isolate the person from others. Secondly, ring the national COVID-19 hotline. Three, ensure the person has transport to their home or to a medical facility. Four, clean the area where the person was working. Five, identify others who had close contact with that person in the previous 24 hours and before that infected person started showing symptoms. And, six, clean the area where those others also were working. And, seven, to review the risk management controls relating to COVID-19. Now, there are more details. But I understand there has been some need for further information on that. And we were getting feedback that people weren't quite sure what to do, and may have been getting conflicting advice. If you go to swa.gov.au/coronavirus, that will give you instructions. So we’ll start right over here on the side and then go to you, Michelle.
JOURNALIST: A question for the Chief Medical Officer, in the modelling that you do have, is there any kind of indication of when you would actually start relaxing some of those social distancing measures? Or will that be when you actually get the Australian modelling?
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: I think the latter. I think that modelling was really just to look at whether we've got the tools and the capacity. What we do next in Australia will very much depend on our real-time Australian data. And that's too early to say yet.
JOURNALIST: As you have a relatively limited number of cases, what are the advantages of trying to eliminate the virus altogether?
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: So, that's a good question. There was a strategy that was undertaken in Wuhan to completely stop transmission, and that is one of the options available. The issue, though, is that then you don't have any immunity in the population and you really have to control your borders in a very aggressive way and that might be for a long time. So, that is one option.
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: No, the National Cabinet... What is clear about the way countries are responding to this virus is that there is no clear right answer. There are lots of potential paths. National Cabinet has asked the AHPPC to come back with a range of alternative scenarios. But the good thing is that we can do that now in a position of relative calm. So, at the moment, our strategy is very much to identify, completely control and isolate every case. That may be the long-term strategy. But we have to look at all of those potential options. There is no clear path. Unlike pandemic influenza, where the strategy was to control and contain until the vaccine came, because we knew the vaccine would come, we don't know if and when a vaccine will come with this virus. If it does, that's a beautiful way out. So, we have to look at a range of different potential scenarios and we will be presenting them to the National Cabinet for their discussion. But there is no single right answer.
PRIME MINISTER: If I can add to that, the National Cabinet has to also consider the ability to actually continue to run the country under such a scenario. And as you know, the economic lifeline that is being provided through the many things that are being done, particularly at the federal level, but also at the state level, they have a finite life. And so obviously if those scenarios were to come forward and it would involve a duration that went well beyond all of the Government's capacity to support that, then that would render such an option not workable.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, now that the commercial tenancy response is in place, will the same apply to residential tenancies? Will they get mediation to defer payment? Will they get at least three months of rent reductions supported by land tax reductions?
PRIME MINISTER: Residential tenancies will now be dealt with directly by each of the state and territory jurisdictions. The issues that we've worked on as a National Cabinet have been to deal with the commercial issues, because they have that broader national economic impact, and the residential tenancies are a matter for state and territory governments, and they'll be addressing that specifically in each jurisdiction.
JOURNALIST: No baselines?
PRIME MINISTER: Sorry?
JOURNALIST: No baselines? No guarantees that tenants, Australia wide, will get…
PRIME MINISTER: We have a moratorium on evictions, and then individual measures beyond that they believe are best addressed within each individual jurisdiction.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, if the aim of a JobKeeper Payment is to keep people employed and tied to a business, why do you have a different system or a different threshold for the larger companies and those employees who are stood down, as opposed to the medium-sized and smaller companies, those who are stood down? The 30 and 50 per cent thresholds?
PRIME MINISTER: They have different financial capabilities and different sized balance sheets and access to financial markets.
JOURNALIST: But, I mean, why, why? Are you saying the big businesses should just suck it up?
PRIME MINISTER: Because larger businesses, in many cases, have a much greater capacity to deal with these issues, just like banks do. That's what I'm saying. I'm saying smaller businesses have a different level of capability and a higher level of vulnerability in dealing with the significant cash flow issues. I mean, it's like comparing Qantas to a corner shop. They're very different operations.
JOURNALIST: Professor Murphy, given that there are over 500 people who have contracted this disease without knowing where it came from, a logical extension of that is at least 500 people have been walking around, not knowing they have it. And it's been modelled earlier that one person walking around within a month could infect up to 400 people. When might we expect to see that potentially dormant amount of people reach a critical mass? And on that, do you think it's therefore likely that, of the hundreds of people let off the Ruby Princess who had the disease, that only about 11 cases have come from that in community transmission, as has been said by New South Wales Health?
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: So, on the first question, those people that don't know they have the virus are the reason why, particularly New South Wales Health, is now broadening testing to every suburb where one of those people has been found. So, they're now testing everyone with acute respiratory illness. And they have found already some of those people who probably gave the virus to someone else. So, other states are doing sentinel surveillance as well. People are testing more broadly than the case definition at the moment. One of the interesting things to note is that people turning up to the testing centres, the numbers have dropped, mainly because people are getting less flu. Because of social distancing, our coughs and colds and flu are actually spreading less than we would have expected at this time. So, we are now testing a lot more broadly. That's a way we will find these other people. And at the moment we're not seeing a huge upswing in those cases. But that is what worries us and that's why we're broadening the testing in all of those areas where community transmission has been found. In terms of the Ruby Princess, whilst those people did leave the ship, within 12 hours of them leaving the ship, New South Wales Health had contacted every state and territory health department where they had gone to, and ensured that they were all contacted and asked to quarantine. So, we believe that most of the passengers who left the Ruby Princess were well aware that there was a risk once they found the positive cases, and we've seen the cases from the Ruby Princess that have popped up in every state have generally been in people that the health department in that state knew about, they were already quarantined, they were already watching them. So, it's too early to say how many will have been transmitted, but New South Wales Health, I believe what they're saying, they wouldn't tell me something that wasn't true.
JOURNALIST: Dr Murphy, does the modelling indicate anything about the relative effectiveness of different measures, such as whether to close schools, or whether to stop large gatherings? And if that modelling work…
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: It doesn't, unfortunately.
JOURNALIST: It does not?
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: It doesn't. And so we're looking now at international experience. What it does, we use international experience to say what the impact of social distancing generally has achieved in Europe, and we've applied that to this model. It doesn't look at the specific impact of each of those models. They hope to get some more granularity on that, because there are other countries that have been doing social distancing for longer, and they will try and get that. But we don't have it. This is a general impact.
JOURNALIST: Can I follow that with…?
PRIME MINISTER: [Inaudible] Professor Murphy, and that is the incidence of the virus amongst younger populations, based on the international data, confirmed the advice that we have been receiving from the AHPPC that it is very low relative to the rest of the population. But Dr Murphy can probably…
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Yes, so symptomatic disease in young people is still extraordinarily low. And, again, I've said on many occasions, we don't know whether children might be asymptomatic transmitters, but we have not found any evidence internationally of significant school-related outbreaks. We don't know.
JOURNALIST: And so can I ask you to restate at the moment your advice on whether parents should be sending children to school in the light of the modelling and your latest information?
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: We see no reason why. The AHPPC advice is that there is no reason to withhold children from school. We do think schools need to be made safe, and the National Cabinet has asked us to come back later this week with some detailed advice on how to make schools safe, in terms of hygiene measures, reducing gatherings, practising where possible social distancing, cleaning playground equipment, all of those things. But we believe that there is not an evidence base to say that keeping children from home is a strong public health measure on the current evidence that we have.
PRIME MINISTER: The National Cabinet and the individual premiers, when they have been making changes to schools, that has been on the basis of the workplace health and safety issues relating to the staff, to the teachers and others who are present at the school. It has not been done on the basis of the health advice, at least from the AHPPC, regarding any health risk to the children.
JOURNALIST: You've talked us through theoretical modelling using international data. There are a lot of Australians who would like to see some actual modelling, using Australian data. Is that something that you're able to provide at some point? And why isn't that useful at this point? And, PM, just to follow up, a lot of your messaging in the last few weeks has been rightly directed at adults and grown-ups, but there are a lot of children who are at home probably watching this right now. They're not at school. This is a pretty overwhelming thing to be living through. What's your message to the children of Australia who are quite anxious about the weeks and months ahead?
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: Ok. So, yes, there is. We now have data on nearly 6,000 Australians. That data is currently in the hands of our modellers and they are doing just as you say. It's still very early data yet. Once we have something that is scientifically valid and useful, the National Cabinet has asked us to share it with them and they will share it with you.
JOURNALIST: Does it show, though, the actual data that we're heading to best-case, worst-case, most likely? Do you have an idea on where we're trending?
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: It's too early to tell on the trend data we’ve got at the moment. But in the next week or 10 days, we'll have much better trend data. The data is still confounded by the noise from returning travellers. Once we’ve got that noise out of the system, we'll be able to get a much better picture.
PRIME MINISTER: My message to the children of Australia is the same message I give to my own children. I know this can be frightening and it can be scary. And they're hearing a lot of things, much of which they won't understand. I think some of the most heartening and cheering videos I think we've seen was where you see little kids in their bedrooms, with their own little lightsaber, attacking the virus. And you know, that's sort of what it feels like somedays in these roles. But I think the key message is, we will get there, we will be Ok, but we have a look after each other. They have to look after their brothers and sisters, they’ve got to look after mum and dad too and try to be as patient with them as they can. When mum and dad, mum or whoever is asking you to do something, I think it is important to do what mum says, and help them as much as they possibly can, because they are trying to do the best thing for those children. We will seek to teach them as much as we can about what's going on. The thing to know is that in Australia they are one of the most safest places in the world and their parents love them very much and their parents will do everything they can to keep them safe through all of these difficult times.
We’ll keep going across the left, yep?
JOURNALIST: Doctor Murphy, can you give us an idea of when - I know you talk about this modelling and it’s early days - when it might become available, and Prime Minister is it fair to say you will require this modelling before you can make any decisions about dialling down social isolation?
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: I would think in coming weeks the National Cabinet, twice a week, I am presenting to them on the data and the trends and they are very keen on what's on what’s happening. But in terms of having some meaningful data, I would say it's a matter of weeks before that would be in a useful form.
PRIME MINISTER: You can get any data at any time, but to get the right data you have to get it at the right time and that when it's ready and that's when it’s had the proper integrity and rigour applied to it. You don't want to make decisions based on poor process and poor data, and when we say we trust the science here and the research, we have got to allow them to do that work properly and not meet arbitrary timeframes. To be honest, the modelling is one of just many tools that we are using. There is no map for this. We are in uncharted territory, and Australia is in a position that many countries would wish to be in. What we have got right now is important time, that's what Australians have given us through their cooperation and work they are doing, that is giving our researchers, our scientists, our doctors, our healthcare sector, all of us more time to be able to chart and plot the way out of this, and that is the full attention of the Government now as go forward, having got all of these larger measures in place. And so there won't be one issue that determines that, and what I think you will expect to see is the National Cabinet look at all the information coming through, and you will have some jurisdictions, some states and territories that might be in a position to move when others are not, then we will learn from the experience of those states that may have trialled things. And we may see a number of trial type of relief of restrictions at some point in the future and that would mean that in states like New South Wales or Victoria or even south-east Queensland that are more impacted that they be able to take this easing of restrictions with a bit more confidence. So the National Cabinet is working together very much on this and discussing the options that are available to them and really trying to help each other with the decisions that they need to make in each and every case. So there is no one point of data, no one point of experience, it's the combination of all and sharing the learning together and making decisions as much as we can together. Up the back.
JOURNALIST: Yep PM, so you were just mentioning how the modelling helps you with your economic response plan, can you give us information about how that's helping you with your economic response plan and also just separately, have you had any employers push harder on getting you to freeze that increase in the superannuation guarantee as a mechanism for helping them get through this period of time as well?
PRIME MINISTER: No, is the short answer to the second question, it's not a matter being raised with me, I can't say it hasn't been raised with anyone else, but that's not a matter the Government is currently considering or considering, I should say. The second point is, there are two parts to those charts, one is the peak and the other is the breadth, and states and territories and I are very conscious that the path out of this is not just about avoiding the peak, but about being able to get back to some sense of normality that will enable the economy to support Australians, without the need for the unprecedented JobKeeper and JobSeeker supplement type supports that are in place because that is finite, that cannot go on forever, that will revert, that will go back to where it was before, and so we will be working to address both of those issues, to ensure the health system can cope, but also to ensure that the duration of where we have to put limitations in place, can be minimised. And that is very difficult. That's why I have talked from the outset that there is a twin crisis we are fighting here. We are fighting on the health front, on the virus and on the economic front, to protect people 's livelihoods, saving lives, saving livelihoods that's our plan.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister you spoke about how you hope the modelling will give you an idea of the path out of this, Professor Murphy said that better hand hygiene will be with us to stay how do you think Australia will look as a society on the other side of this crisis?
PRIME MINISTER: Well it's a question I think we are all asking ourselves about how we can best put in place the policy environment that gets the best outcome on the other side. And I think, as Australians go through these many months ahead, it will change many of us and our behaviours for a long time to come and in some cases not in a necessarily bad way, there will be things we learn from this experience which I think will be very important, but the other side of what we are in currently at the moment I think highlights the need for us, of course to be an open trading nation, that has been a core part, a core part of our prosperity over centuries. But equally we need to look carefully at our domestic economic sovereignty as well, and these are issues that the government and particularly the Federal Government is spending a lot of time focusing on at present.
Up the back?
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, this morning Gladys Berejiklian said that if a vaccine, that social distancing wouldn't be lifted until a vaccine was realised and we are hearing that could be for potentially a year or even longer, what's the AHPPC’s advice to National Cabinet on that and just further on the same issue, in terms of testing we are seeing that the guidelines are being lifted to some degree and you are testing a bit broader, is there a point at which you could be testing asymptomatic people that aren't necessarily in a risk category to see if this virus is lying dominant and any other populations?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ll let Professor Murphy speak to the testing other than to make this point, that the testing resource is also globally, largely, finite and so testing resources need to be applied where they are of greatest use and I know that’s the strategy being followed by the medical profession. In relation to the comments you referred to from Premier Berejiklian I know having spoken to her that her position is not as hard and fast as you may have represented. I think there is a very practical and pragmatic approach being followed by all states and territories, and that the restrictions are one of the many levers that we have to pull in both terms of getting this under control, but also at a point where we can actually move forward again and start to ease them, that's no time soon I should stress, that's why I say this Easter, make sure you follow all the rules in staying home and enjoying Easter with your own household, and spending that time there because that is what is going to save lives and save livelihoods. So it is important that we deal with this on a week by week, month by month process, and where we are in a position to make changes in the future then of course we will. Because that will be in the national interest to do that ultimately so long as we don't compromise the other battle we face which is on the health front.
PROFESSOR MURPHY: So on testing of asymptomatic people there isn't a lot of evidence about it, the one place we will likely do that, is in aged care facilities if we find a case in and aged care facility, we’ll, because we have seen some asymptomatic cases and because this virus wreaks havoc in aged care, that is a strategy that we will be undertaking, at the moment, we think the yield is more in testing people with acute respiratory symptoms in areas of community transmission, that is where we are broadening the testing at the moment, we will look at the data on asymptomatic carriage, it's not clear yet how significant that is or what people might test positive when they are well how infectious they are, that data is still emerging.
JOURNALIST: Just on cruise ships, at least 17 of our 45 or so deaths now are related to cruisers, are linked to cruisers and the cruise industry do you think the industry needs to take a fair portion of the responsibility to do with this and do you see that industry changing, long-term beyond the pandemic and its practices and so on?
PRIME MINISTER: I'm sure every single sector in the country, whether it’s cruise ships or anyone else, will be reflecting on these very difficult experiences that they have had, both negative and otherwise. They have largely been negative in terms of how they would deal with these sorts of issues again in the future. In terms of the cruise shipping industry, like many other sectors, they have got caught up in these early phases because people were out on cruise ships and that was always going to present some very difficult transitional issues in these early weeks. And there was no simple way through all of that, what I think is important to understand is what the virus has done has pushed pause on the global economy, that has never happened before. It’s never happened before, at this scale and when you think about the global economy and everything connects all around the world, people on planes, people travelling people on business, supply lines, resources on ships, all of this and then all of a sudden, it gets paused. Then that's going to cause the obvious complications that we have seen and so that’s been difficult and there have been issues, no doubt, that I think everybody would hope would have gone differently but I think, on occasion we just have to step back a bit and just reflect on how significant the impact has been here, and everybody even if they have made mistakes, I think have been trying to get this right. Journalists have been trying to get it right, you haven't always got it right too, others working in government, people working in industry they have been trying to get it right, I think we have got to give people a bit more of a break in those circumstances. Sure there are things they should have learned and sure there’s things that should have been done better and sure there’s things that need to be done differently in the future, but you know right now? I have got to deal with today's problems and I have got to deal with next week's problems and next month 's problems and that road back and so I can't allow us to get too held back in things that have already occurred. We have got to learn from them sure, but the intray is pretty full on a lot of other things.
Phil? No I’m sorry we’ve had one question, Phil?
JOURNALIST: Professor Murphy, you said in response to Michelle's question about the eradication theory that one of the downsides of that may be that you do not build up sufficient community, sorry immunity in the community, do you have a benchmark in mind for what percentage of the population needs to have developed an immunity over time before we can start sort of returning to normal?
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: The short answer is no, some people believe you need over 50 per cent immunity, to up to 60 per cent, and to be clear, we are not pursuing a path of herd immunity, we are pursuing a path of control and suppression, but, if you did want to get that sort of level of immunity to prevent transmission it's probably at that level but we don't know yet, that's modelled on other viruses, there’s no community in the world that has very high immunity as yet.
JOURNALIST: Just wondering about the six month timeframe we are being told about. Does it come from this highly theoretical modelling and if so how much when can we trust it and in a few weeks when we have the Australian data will we possibly have a different timeframe?
PRIME MINISTER: The six months was based on some early work that was done but also, I should stress, it has had factored into it the scale response we can provide in terms of supports. So all of these things come together and we will have to keep this under constant review, but it was important that we, I think, had a realistic initial timeframe to work to, to be able to construct things like JobKeeper. I mean, we could have done what other nations have done and said ‘Oh, we'll put this in place for a month or two months or perhaps three months.’ We said no, if we're going to do something we have got to be able to do this for the foreseeable period that we can currently about the extent of this pandemic. And so we took six months and to the best of knowledge we are the only country that have been thinking about it and those sort of longer terms and that's important because $130 billion on JobKeeper is significant. Absolutely significant, unprecedented. And if I had said to you that this was only going to cost $65 billion and it was over three months, I think I would not have been upfront with the Australian people. I would have had to have said, as we have done, we think that’s at least what we need to do. And that is going to draw heavily on our capability. But at least we know - and Australians can know - and this will be in the Parliament tomorrow, it will pass the Parliament tomorrow. It will pass the Parliament because it must pass the Parliament, because Australians need the certainty of that lifeline for that next six months. This buys us this next six months, as we work the medical professionals to chart our way through and out of this. This is an absolutely essential lifeline for Australia. That is unprecedented in its scale and its scope and its coverage. This will provide Australia with what we need to get through the next six months, and hopefully that gives us the time we need to chart our way through and out.
JOURNALIST: PM, thank you. In terms of commercial tenancies, what happens if a landlord doesn't want to engage with their tenant in this process? Even though it is a mandatory code, is there a way around people who may not do it, may not engage and negotiate in good faith?
PRIME MINISTER: They are legally required to do it. So in not following the legal requirement, they would be forfeiting their rights under the lease.
JOURNALIST: So there is no way out for a landlord is what you’re saying? And at risk of being cheeky, can I just get your reaction to the George Pell decision today?
PRIME MINISTER: I'm staying focused on the coronavirus today, thank you very much. The High Court has made its decision. I know for many Australians the memories of things that are completely unrelated to that case, which has been addressed in the High Court, just the mere discussion of these topics brings back great hurt and when these things are raised my thoughts are always with them. But the High Court has - the highest court in the land - has made its decision and that must be respected.
JOURNALIST: Professor Murphy, back to the modelling. We saw some really horrific levels of infection just a few weeks ago, in the mid-teens, and higher. When it comes to the modelling, what rate of growth - because you are talking about managed rates of infection in, effect with the push and pull of levers - what rate of infection can we tolerate without pushing the ICU availability? And just one to you, a second question, you talked about a pandemic period. What is the definition of a "pandemic period"? Is it simply a declaration of the National Cabinet or is there some other metric?
PROFESSOR BRENDAN MURPHY, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER: So, the answer is we don't know, Andrew. That's what the modelling is going to look at at the moment with our Australian data. So, certainly we're very confident with the growth trajectory at the moment. But that can change. Particularly that community transmission is what we have to look at. We will be doing Australian modelling on that. So I can't give you an answer to that today. But we will in coming weeks if that's the course we pursue, because the National Cabinet has asked for a range of options of how we come from… some people have created the analogy, we’ve got ourselves on a life raft, unlike the US and other countries that are still in the water. We are on a life raft. We now have to chart the course of where we take that life raft. The National Cabinet wants considered advice on all the directions. We don't have those answers yet.
PRIME MINISTER: Pandemic period - when you talk about the commercial tenancies code - is mapped to the JobSeeker program, which as you know began last Monday - last Monday week, technically. That runs out for a period of over six months, around six months. That can obviously be extended or retracted, based on the assessments made by the government at any point in time, considering all the issues we have been discussing with you today. The JobKeeper programme has become, if you like, a key building block, not just for the Federal Government, but also states as well who are tagging a lot of their supports and assistance to those businesses who find themselves in those situations. So, it's not a scientifically defined space at the moment, but it is certainly assisted and being defined by the scientific and medical advice that we are receiving. So that is what we refer to when we say the "pandemic period". We’re going to leave it there. Sorry, you didn't have a question.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask very quickly, this forthcoming modelling exercise involving the Australian context, Prime Minister, will you guarantee that you will be able to release the underlying assumptions when that modelling comes out as well?
PRIME MINISTER: As demonstrated today, you're getting everything we have got. And I think that's the approach we have been taking all along. We have been very up-front with the Australian people. And the National Cabinet equally wants to be very up-front with Australians about this. That's why we have spent quite a bit of time today going into some detail, explaining the qualifications around the information that we have provided to the public today, but in, particularly to the media, and we would hope that it is appropriately reported, in terms of what it is, and also what it isn't. We will continue to be up-front with Australians, but as we close off today, there are 301 Australians based on the information I received this morning at 6:30, who are in hospital. Some 93 of those are in ICUs. Some 36 are on ventilators. And it's a reminder with the 42 fatalities that we've had there are many Australians out there at the moment who are just going through such a horrible time beyond the isolation, beyond the inconveniences of the restrictions, and also the terrible economic loss. There are those who are dealing with lost loved ones. There are those who are dealing with family members who are in ICUs, and there are those who are fearful that others might fall into that situation. And this is a heavy burden for those Australians to carry. And we need to assist them in carrying that burden as well, in the way we deal with these issues, And to Boris, we are with you, mate, and we hope you get well soon.