Australia has just announced it plans to ban mass gatherings of 500 people or more from Monday 16 March in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus in the country. It comes after the nation’s top health official advised the Prime Minister mass gatherings should be cancelled or postponed until the situation improves. It’s a massive step to curb the rate of infection so here’s what this means.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced the government’s advising against public gatherings of 500 people or more from Monday 16 March, following advice from Australia’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Brendan Murphy during a Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting.
“It has been recommended to us that we move to a position by Monday where we will be advising against organised nonessential gatherings of persons of 500 people or greater,” Morrison said in a press conference.
“That of course does not include schools. It does not include university lectures. It does not mean people getting on public transport or going to airports or things of that nature.
“These events that we are seeking to advise against and restrict are for nonessential, organised gatherings of persons of 500 or more.”
Interestingly, Morrison mentions both advising against and ‘restricting’ but what that might look like is still unclear for now. It marks a significant change in the situation but Morrison has doubled down on his attendance at a sporting match this weekend.
“I do still plan to go to the football on Saturday,” Morrison said echoing his plans from previous day’s press conference.
“It’s very simple, you follow the health advice,” Morrison said in a press conference on 12 March.
“I’m going to the footy this weekend and I’m looking forward to it.”
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What does a mass gathering ban mean in Australia?
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the events were banned due to the length of time a large group of people will spend in contact.
“We are talking about a static gathering where people are together for a period of perhaps up to two hours. That’s generally where you have a high risk of exposure,” Dr Murphy said.
“Casual exposure [like] walking through a train station or airport is much lower risk, so we’re talking about those constant periods of contact. 500 is the number epidemic models around the world, which have suggested that, with the state we are at and other countries are at, is a reasonable number. There is some arbitrariness about it, but other countries have chosen that number, based on the best available scientific modelling.”
Interestingly, it doesn’t apply to public transport, universities or schools where gatherings often surpass 500 people.
The advice is set to kick in from Monday 16 March but a newly-established national cabinet with representation from all states and territories will form to sort out the finer details.
“It will deal with issues such as schools and universities and all of these types of things. Prisons, which we have not discussed today. Practical issues about the management of the national response to the coronavirus,” Morrison said.
Is it a good idea to ban mass gatherings amid the coronavirus outbreak?
Dr Kathryn Snow is an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne explained it’s a good people with underlying health conditions avoid crowded areas.
“Many employers and individuals will have their own personal considerations and worries. Some people who are elderly or immuno-compromised may feel that they want to be extra careful and avoid crowded events or places, which is understandable,” Dr Snow said.
“Some workplaces are advising people to limit travel and to work from home, which seems wise to me personally while the situation is so uncertain. These types of ‘social distancing’ measures have been successful in helping some countries control the virus, and we may see broader recommendations about these types of measures in Australia in the coming weeks and months.”
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