Comprehensive recommendations produced by the Australian Institute of Sport map out a pathway for states to restart community and professional sports, but some major hygiene changes would remain in place long-term.
There’s no set start date for any of the stages, with health officials expected to consider options in the coming weeks.
In the first stage of relaxed measures, sports with minimal contact including archery, cycling, equestrian, golf, rowing, sailing, surfing and swimming would be allowed to resume as solo or pair activities.
But group sports like netball, AFL, rugby league, union, cricket and soccer would only be able to do solo running, resistance or skills training.
Tennis players could train using a ball machine, while basketballers could practice shooting hoops or throwing the ball against a wall – but not to others.
The AIS recommends the approach to training should focus on “get in, train, get out”, minimising unnecessary contact in change rooms, bathrooms and communal areas.
In the second stage of easing, ball sports would be allowed to do some controlled kicking or passing drills, but no further physical contact.
Sports such as karate and judo would be allowed to do “non-contact” shadow training with a sparring partner or coach.
Most sports would not be able to fully resume until stage three – when barefoot bowls would be permitted – but some social distancing is recommended permanently.
Recommendations for ongoing restrictions included for AFL maintaining group separation, keeping mid, forward and back players from mingling, while for cricket shining the ball with saliva or sweat should remain banned.
Those restrictions should also apply to professional cricket and AFL players.
People should not be able to play sport if in the last 14 days they have been unwell or had contact with a known or suspected case of COVID-19.
AUSTRALIAN RESTRICTIONS TO EASE WITHIN A WEEK
Australians have been so successful flattening the coronavirus curve they have earned an “early mark” with restrictions to start being eased in just one week, Scott Morrison has revealed.
The Prime Minister said the National Cabinet of state and territory leaders had agreed to consider easing strict shut down measures from May 8 – a week earlier than was originally planned when the committee agreed to wait a month before moving any reactions.
Mr Morrison said one “critical” element in deciding how far restrictions are rolled back included how many people downloaded the federal government’s COVIDSafe app.
“It’s over to you Australia, as we get through this next seven days,” he said.
Mr Morrison said not installing the app was like going into the “blazing sun” without wearing sunscreen.
Asked what restrictions could be eased from next Friday, Mr Morrison said a broad review of the rules was under way but he would not “second guess that process”.
Aged care providers will receive a share of $205 million from the federal government as a one-off payment to support them with additional costs and expenses dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The National Cabinet also agreed on an industry code for the aged care sector, which will help facilitate visits to the elderly during the pandemic.
Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck said all the major providers had signed up to the code. “I’ve had some very, good conversations with some key players in the sector this week … and things they are already doing to facilitate visits,” he said.
It followed concerns raised by top health officials that some nursing homes were completely banning visits, which was unnecessarily harming the mental health of elderly residents and causing distress for families.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy said the effective reproduction rate — showing how the virus is spreading — is now not useful to the national cabinet because the number of new cases across the country is so low.
He said enhanced testing was crucial to prevent a “second wave” of the virus.
TRUMP THREATENS TO PUNISH CHINA
US President Donald Trump threatened new tariffs against Beijing after claiming there is evidence linking the coronavirus to a lab in China’s ground-zero city of Wuhan.
Asked if he had seen anything giving him a high degree of confidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology was the origin of the outbreak, Trump replied, “Yes, I have.”
The Republican is increasingly making complaints over Beijing’s handling of the pandemic outbreak a major issue for his November re-election campaign.
He told reporters at the White House that US agencies were investigating how the virus first emerged and what China had done to stop it spreading to the rest of the world.
“We’ll be able to get a very powerful definition of what happened,” he said, adding that a report would be made to him “in the not too distant future.”
But even as the issue remains under probe, Trump said he already has suspicions.
“They could have stopped it,” he said, attacking China for not cancelling international flights out of the country in time.
Several theories are circulating on how the virus appeared in Wuhan, including that it emerged from a market selling live animals or accidentally from the Wuhan research lab.
The US intelligence community said on Thursday it had concluded that the novel coronavirus originated in China but was not man-made or engineered.
Pressed by reporters at the White House for details on what made him so confident about a link to the laboratory, Trump replied: “I cannot tell you that.”
Regardless of where blame lies for the outbreak, Trump is ramping up a war of words with Beijing, claiming again on Thursday that “China doesn’t want to see me re-elected.”
Attention is now turning to what Trump will do in terms of threatened retaliation.
The new tension comes only months after the US and China settled a trade war which had been rolling world markets.
Until now Trump has been notably vague on what measures he is considering but tariffs, he said, are a possibility.
CHINA RELEASES BIZARRE VIDEO
China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency has released a bizarre video attacking America’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in a move that is sure to further inflame tense relations between the two superpowers.
The video, released overnight, titled Once Upon a Virus parodies old US movie reel productions and is set to the tune of 1960s hit The Entertainer.
In it, two Lego figures, one a Chinese worker with a mask, the other the Statue of Liberty, bicker over each country’s response to the outbreak of the epidemic.
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The short video portrays China a responsible global citizen. Meanwhile the US is displayed as an ignorant whinger who has ignored Chinese warnings on what was going on.
The video also has the WHO as supporting China’s stance.
Australia has called for an investigation into the WHO’s handling of the crisis.
“We discovered a new virus,” starts the Chinese worker.
“So what,” replies the Statue of Liberty.
The dialogue continues with the two figures arguing over how serious the new virus is, whether people should wear a mask and stay at home and the widely debated virus figures before the Statue of Liberty finishes with: “We are correct even though we contradict ourselves.”
To which the Chinese figure replies: “That’s what I love best about you Americans, your consistency.”
Coronavirus: Chinese state-run media blasts US response to COVID-19 (Xinhua News)
Chinese state-run Xinhua News Agency released a video criticising the United States’ response to the coronavirus outbreak.
AUSSIE TROOPS GET COVID-19
Five defence force officers who contracted coronavirus in the Middle East have been flown home to Australia.
Personnel serving in the region were tested after a number of local contractors became infected with the virus. The five Australians are all asymptomatic.
Four returned to Australia on Friday morning on a routine defence force flight and were taken to Royal Darwin Hospital for assessment.
The fifth, who recently completed their deployment, previously returned to Australia and is currently in mandatory quarantine in Brisbane.
The Australian Defence Force said it decided to test personnel “after being notified that a number of locally engaged contractors had tested positive”.
It did not say exactly where the officers became infected.
“Defence will take all necessary measures in consultation with our Coalition partners, relevant host nations and Australian federal, state and territory governments to ensure ADF personnel receive the treatment and care required,” it said in a statement on Friday.
DOZENS OF BODIES FOUND IN TRUCKS OUTSIDE NYC FUNERAL HOME
It comes as police were called to a Brooklyn neighbourhood in the New York borough of Brooklyn after a funeral home overwhelmed by the coronavirus resorted to storing dozens of bodies on ice in rented trucks, and a passer-by complained about the smell, officials said.
Investigators who responded to an emergency call found that the home had rented four trucks to hold about 50 bodies, according to a police official.
No criminal charges were brought and the official, who was not authorised to speak publicly about the investigation, spoke to media on condition of anonymity.
The Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home was cited for failing to control the odours.
The home was able to obtain a larger, refrigerated truck later in the day, the official said.
Workers suited up in protective gear could be seen in the afternoon transferring bodies into the refrigerated truck.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday (local time) called the funeral home’s actions “unconscionable.”
I have no idea in the world how any funeral home could let this happen,” Mr de Blasio said at a press briefing, arguing that officials at the home should have asked its state regulators or even city police for help if it was becoming overwhelmed.
The funeral home “should have been able to figure it out,” he said.
New York City funeral homes have struggled in the city since late March.
The city set up temporary morgues. Hospitals used refrigerated tractor trailers to cart away multiple bodies at a time, sometimes loading them in public view on the sidewalk. Crematoriums have been backed up. Funeral directors across the city have pleaded for help as they have run out of space.
The New York Police Department notified the state Department of Health, which oversees funeral homes, about the situation at the Andrew T. Cleckley Funeral Home.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams went to the scene.
“While this situation is under investigation, we should not have what we have right now, with trucks lining the streets filled with bodies,” he said.
He said “it was people who walked by who saw some leakage and detected an odour coming from a truck.”
UK ‘PAST ITS VIRUS PEAK’
Boris Johnson has said Britain is now “past the peak” of the coronavirus, and promised an extensive plan to end Britain’s lockdown would come next week.
The British Prime Minister led the government’s nightly press briefing for the first time since his own coronavirus fight, as he braced Britain for weeks more shutdown to keep the rate of transmission low.
It came as the UK’s death toll reached 26,711 on Thursday (local time) – up by 674 deaths in the last 24 hours.
Britain is now the third-most affected in the world behind the United States and Italy on cumulative deaths, after changing its reporting to include community as well as hospital deaths on Wednesday.
But Mr Johnson, making his first appearance at a daily government briefing since his own battle with COVID-19, said there were reasons for optimism.
“For the first time, we are past the peak of this disease … and we are on the downward slope,” he told reporters.
“We are coming through the peak or rather we are coming over what could have been a vast peak, as though we have been going through some huge Alpine tunnel.
“And we can now see the sunlight and the pastures ahead of us. So it’s vital that we don’t now lose control and run slap into a second and even bigger mountain.”
The government’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, said the rate of transmission was now below one, with fewer hospital admissions and people in intensive care.
That was having an effect on overall deaths, he said.
“The R (rate of transmission) is below one. We think it’s between 0.6 and 0.9 across the nation. Maybe a little lower in some places, a little higher in others but it’s below one across the country,” he added, referring to the number of people infected by one person with COVID-19.
Mr Johnson’s return to work has coincided with increased pressure to lift a lockdown that was imposed in late March to cut close contact transmission of the virus.
He said a “road map” would be published next week about the government’s plan to ease restrictions, after concerns about the economic effect of the social distancing measures.
“The dates and times of each individual measure will be very much driven by where we are in the epidemic,” he added.
RUSSIAN PM DIAGNOSED WITH CORONAVIRUS
Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced on Thursday (local time) he has tested positive for the coronavirus, as the country’s number of confirmed cases surged past 100,000 after its largest daily increase.
In a televised meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr Mishustin said he has to “observe self-isolation” to protect his colleagues, suggesting a temporary acting PM.
Putin swiftly signed a decree appointing First Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Belousov as a temporary replacement.
The president assured Mr Mishustin that contracting COVID-19 “can happen to anyone” and that no major decisions would be taken without his input.
“I hope that you stay able to work,” Mr Putin told Mr Mishustin, who is the highest Russian official to become infected.
“Call me as soon as you arrive to the hospital,” said Mr Putin, who appointed Mr Mishustin in a surprise decision in January, picking the formerly obscure tax service chief to replace longtime premier Dmitry Medvedev.
Mr Putin has not held any face-to-face meetings for weeks, according to the Kremlin website, and was last shown in the same room as Mr Mishustin on March 24.
It comes as a spike of 7099 confirmed infections in the last 24 hours brought Russia’s total to 106,498 cases and 1073 deaths, according to the government’s daily coronavirus update.
With its number of cases increasing by several thousand each day, Russia is now the European country registering the most new infections.
GERMANY EASES LOCKDOWNS
German authorities agreed on Thursday (local time) to reopen playgrounds, churches and cultural institutions such as museums and zoos that have been shuttered because of the coronavirus pandemic, but postponed a decision on whether to relax the rules for restaurants, hotels and kindergartens.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said there would be regional differences because of Germany’s federal structure, but the overall goal remained to ensure that the country’s health system could cope with the outbreak.
“So far, we have managed to succeed in doing so,” she told reporters after a meeting with the governors of Germany’s 16 states.
“We have all together achieved a lot in recent weeks.” The country of 83 million has recorded almost 162,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 6,467 deaths so far, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the US. That is about a quarter the number of deaths reported in Britain and France, even though the three countries have a similar number of confirmed cases.
Over the past week, Germany recorded between 1000 and 1500 new cases a day, down from 2000 the previous week.
The country’s success in flattening the curb of infections has sparked calls for an end to the lockdown, particularly from businesses that have been forced to close because of social distancing measures.
Mrs Merkel said the federal and state governments wouldn’t make a decision on reopening hotels and restaurants at their next meeting on May 6, which will focus on further relaxing the rules for schools, childcare centres and sports facilities.
“Caution is require, as well as sticking to hygiene measures,” she said. The head of Germany’s disease control centre earlier Thursday likened the pandemic to a marathon.
“We simply don’t know how long it will take for the marathon to end,” Lothar Wieler of the Robert Koch Institute said.
Mr Wieler said Germany was currently going through the first wave of the pandemic. “The majority of scientists believe that there will be a second wave and maybe even a third,” he added.
Federal and state authorities also agreed on Thursday to extend the ban on large sports events, concerts and festivals until at least August 31. But hospitals will be allowed to resume routine operations that had been ordered put on hold last month, after data showed a sufficient reserve of intensive care unit beds in the country.
Still, like elsewhere, medical staff in the country are feeling the strain. “The burden is certainly great as we have to deal with a highly infectious disease every day, and the treatment regime is not clearly defined,” said Dr Daniel Heidenkummer, who oversees the treatment of COVID-19 patients at the InnKlinikum Altoetting, near Germany’s border with Austria.
The hospital has treated almost 600 patients with severe illness resulting from coronavirus since early March.
Restrictions on visitors mean that staff have to spend more time tending to the emotional welfare of patients, a burden that would normally be borne largely by friends and family, Dr Heidenkummer said.
Mrs Merkel acknowledged the sacrifices made by many Germans because of the lockdown. But she warned against venting frustration at health experts who have been providing sometimes contradictory advice to the government, resulting in a zigzag of decisions in recent months.
“That’s in the nature of the matter,” she said, citing her own experience as a scientist before entering politics more than 30 years ago.
“That’s why science is so exciting, because you never do the same thing twice,” she said, adding that “we politicians are there to draw conclusions.”
– with staff writers, AAP, AFP, The Sun