PM prepares the nation for 'third wave' of Covid-19

PM prepares the nation for 'third wave' of Covid-19

A concerted national effort to ramp up testing and tracing of Covid-19 will prepare Australia for a 'third wave' of the virus, according to the Prime Minister.

The National Cabinet expects to witness another spike in cases caused by community transmission, which will require new tools for containment. 

Testing and tracing capabilities will be fortified, and rapid response teams will be prepared to snuff out clusters of the virus during phase three. 

It comes as states and territories today relax the eligibility requirements for testing with Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Brendan Murphy aiming to test 40,000 to 50,000 people per day if necessary before restrictions are eased.

"We've done some really exciting work in the supplier line and test kits," says Murphy.

"We are much more confident that we've diversified the supply line and we feel that we will be able to secure enough tests to meet whatever surveillance plan we put in place."

Murphy says as returning travellers were quarantined, they each infected very few people and their effective reproduction rate (ERR) of the virus was very close to zero. As a result, it was much easier for Australia to have an ERR overall that was below 1.

But now, as we are moving into the community transmission phase, that number is actually moving closer to 1 and the PM says it is important we are well prepared in order to keep the level under that threshold.

"[The third phase] requires particularly different tools building on the ones we already have in place and that is the testing, that is the tracing, and that is the rapid response," says Morrison.

"We can't become complacent because of the fall in the number of internationally acquired cases which has been the predominant drop in the number of cases we've had in Australia, and now we have to be wary against community transmission."

"We'll also be then working towards decisions that we have to make over the next few weeks and getting the key data metrics in place as to how we'll make decisions on further easing restrictions."

Murphy adds the ACT and NT were not included in today's ERR modelling as case numbers are so low that there's no statistical purpose in showing them, which should be a "mark of pride" for those territories. 

Community transmission in Australia has already been occurring; the outbreak in the Northwest of Tasmania and today a small cluster in Victoria are just two examples of what could become widespread if the country does ease restrictions.

"We have to be incredibly vigilant about [these clusters] as we focus our efforts on suppression containment over the next few months," says Murphy.

"We presented to the national cabinet today advanced versions of what we're calling our pandemic intelligence plan and our surveillance plan to test extensively and make sure that we can detect any of these clusters that might appear over the comings weeks.

As states and territories expand their testing regimes, and the finishing touches are placed on a Covid-19 tracking smartphone app, Murphy says the Federal Government is even considering testing asymptomatic people.

"We're also looking at a range of active surveillance mechanisms to test even people without symptoms in a range of frontline occupations and around what we call 'sentinel situations' where we sample a population," says Murphy.

"National Cabinet is very clear that they want to be absolutely confident before relaxing any measures that we are in a position in this country to detect any community transmission of any significance."

Murphy says quarantine measures imposed upon Australians returning home from overseas have been working, resulting in an effective reproduction rate (ERR) of zero.

"The opportunity for a return traveller to infect locals is essentially zero," says Murphy.

"We are so grateful to the states and territories for organising this quarantine and for those Australian citizens who have put up with two weeks of quarantine to protect their fellow members of the community and most of them have done so very graciously."

Taking out return travellers Australia has been able to get the ERR close to one, which is nearing the benchmark the PM hopes to hit in around three weeks' time before considering easing restrictions further.

"We are still in a good place and need to keep up a very, very strong vigilance over what we're doing," says Murphy.

PM Morrison has also confirmed that Parliament will resume for three days from 12-14 May.

Updated at 1:43PM AEST on 24 April 2020.

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