The Australian National Cabinet has agreed to the first major easing of Covid-19 containment restrictions with elective surgeries to recommence after the Anzac Day long weekend on 27 April.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a press conference today the move will lead to the reopening of around 25 per cent of activity for elective surgery compared to capacity prior to restrictions.
"Priority will be given with this reopening on the basis of clinical determinations by the relevant health professionals, and that will take place in both the public and private system," he said.
"This is an important decision because it marks another step on the way back - there is a road back, there is a road ahead, and the decision that the national cabinet has taken today is evidence of that.
"This wouldn't be possible if we were not able to secure the additional PPE (personal protective equipment) and it also wouldn't be possible if we weren't able to have confidence about the the level of cases that have been identified in Australia, and slowing that rate of growth down to very minimal levels."
Health Minister Greg Hunt highlighted a sustained and consolidated flattening of the curve of new cases, with less than one per cent growth for nine consecutive days.
"And over the last three days, we have averaged less than half a percent of growth in new cases - this is a collective national achievement. It's our doctors, our nurses, our pathology workers, but it's every Australian that's been contributing and I want to say thank you for what people have done," he said.
Hunt said 60 million masks had been secured and delivered into Australia, allowing for 22 million distributions and another 11.5 million masks to be distributed over the coming week.
"And we have secured a further 100 million masks over the coming six weeks - that means that we are in a position now to support elective surgery," he said.
"In terms of our hospitals, we have now had delivered 3,260 ventilators in the last week and half from a great Australian company ResMed (ASX: RMD) - that's 3,000 non-invasive, and 216 invasive ventilators.
"We have now achieved our national goal of full capacity of 7,500 ventilators. That's an extraordinary achievement across our hospitals, across the country. All of this means we're in a position to start the recovery."
The Prime Minister also revealed a review of recent events in a number of aged care facilities had shown some had implemented restrictions on all visits for residents, which goes beyond what was recommended by the National Cabinet.
"The National Cabinet agree that there needs to be a strong reminder that the National Cabinet decision was not to shut people off, or to lock them away in their rooms."
The share market's response to the announcement has been mixed with the share price staying fairly flat for country's largest private hospital operator Ramsay Health Care (ASX: RHC), albeit against a backdrop of a 1.96 per cent drop in the ASX All Ordinaries Index and a 1.76 per cent fall in the S&P/ASX 200 Health Care index (XHJ).
It should however be noted that under half of Ramsay's revenue comes from its operations in Australia and Asia, with the rest heavily weighted towards continental Europe as well as a presence in the UK.
Shares have risen for the likes of ResMed (ASX: RMD) by 1.31 per cent and Sonic Healthcare (ASX: SHL) by 0.75 per cent, while shares are down 1.47 per cent for Cochlear (ASX: COH), 1.45 per cent for CSL (ASX: CSL) and 2.04 per cent for Healius (ASX: HLS).
Virtus Health (ASX: VRT) has seen its shares rise 8.37 per cent, while smaller caps like Paragon Care (ASX: PGC) and Healthia (ASX: HLA) are down 5.88 per cent and 4.38 per cent respectively.
In the dental space, shares in 1300 Smiles (ASX: ONT) are up 1.19 per cent and Pacific Smiles (ASX: PSQ) has risen by 0.85 per cent.
Shares in aged care home operator Japara Health (ASX: JHC) are down 4.9 per cent.
Updated at 2:22pm AEST on 21 April 2020.
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