Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told Parliament that Australia’s states and territories should aim for COVID-19 restrictions to be eased in time for Christmas.
Speaking at Question Time, Morrison said Victoria had “turned the corner” and states and territories needed to start planning to reopen to the rest of the country.
“By Christmas, Mr Speaker, we should aim for Australians to be able to go to work, to be able to be with their family at Christmas, and to return to visit their friends and to look forward to a positive 2021,” he said, as reported by ABC News.
“We cannot resign Australia to being a dislocated nation under COVID-19.”
The federal government continues to ramp up pressure on states and territories to open their borders, with the prime minister reportedly vowing to adopt a national definition of what constitutes a coronavirus “hotspot”, a move he previously flagged.
However, Morrison said he would come to the definition regardless of whether other leaders agree.
The news comes after Queensland announced its southern border restrictions with NSW would remain for all of September. Western Australia has also warned its state border closure could remain until March 2021.
Furthermore, Tasmania’s borders will remain closed until at least December, while restrictions in South Australia and the Northern Territory continue to be enforced.
Speaking at Question Time, the PM said he had spoken to the premiers of Victoria and NSW, saying both Daniel Andrews and Gladys Berejiklian were committed to reopening the border between the two states as soon as it was considered safe.
He also argued the three-step plan National Cabinet agreed to in May, before Victoria’s second wave of cases, needed to be revisited.
“There is much to be achieved,” he said, as reported by ABC News.
“There are borders that are in place now, and that is understandable, but what we have to work to do is to let Australians know that by Christmas … they will be able to come together.
“By Christmas … they will be able to come together as families and look to a 2021, Mr Speaker, that doesn’t look like the difficulties that they’ve gone through in 2020.”
Regional Victoria to ease restrictions quicker than Melbourne
Meanwhile, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday confirmed he will announce two separate roadmaps to reopening the state’s economy, with regional Victoria expected to open sooner than metropolitan Melbourne.
Speaking to the press, Andrews said active cases in regional Victoria were now down to 139, with 100,000 tests conducted since stage 3 restrictions were imposed there on 5 August.
“Given the low number of cases in regional Victoria and the fact that our strategy there has been very successful, only due to the work that each and every country Victorian is doing, we can today announce that on Sunday we’ll speak about two roadmaps towards opening up: one for metropolitan Melbourne, and a second road map that may have different component parts for regional Victoria,” he said.
Andrews’ announcement came off the back of criticism by the federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, who said the state’s leader had not provided enough clarity to Victorian businesses.
When asked to respond to the treasurer’s comments directly, Andrews said: “I’m not here to argue with Josh Frydenberg. I haven’t got time to have an argument with him or a debate or even a discussion.”
Victoria recorded 70 new coronavirus infections from Monday to Tuesday, representing the lowest single-day total in more than eight weeks. Five new deaths were also recorded, which reportedly represents the lowest single-day toll since 15 August.
The Victorian premier refused to rule out the possibility of stage-four restrictions being extended beyond the 13 September lockdown.
That potential move has been bolstered after the Andrews government’s planned six-month extension of the state of emergency passed the state parliament’s Upper House.
If the proposal now passes the Lower House, the extension, as reported by The Age, would allow the state government to declare the coronavirus pandemic an ongoing state of emergency.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, who was reportedly heckled repeatedly throughout her speech, told the Parliament those who voted against the bill were in effect voting for a “third wave”.
She also denied suggestions, which were reported by The Australian, that the bill would give additional powers to the Chief Health Officer or the government.
“This is the most important bill … in the 21 years I have been in the Victorian Parliament. We have an ongoing public health emergency,” she said, as reported by The Age.
“The case numbers are trending down but we know there is still some way to go.
“This is about extending the time to exercise the current powers under the Health and Wellbeing Act.
“This pandemic will not be finished in two weeks’ time, it won’t in fact be finished in six months; this will be going into 2021 because we know in all likelihood there will be no vaccine … within that six-month period.”
Featured image source: ABC News