Dr Dena Grayson, a specialist based in Florida, told 60 Minutes that lifting social distancing restrictions could undo all of Australia’s good work.
“Your country’s done a fabulous job of getting your hands around this virus and just as you’re literally entering flu season, and you’re not having a lot of new cases.
“Now is really not the time for Australia to let its foot off the brake,” Ms Grayson said. “My worry is you let your foot off the brake and so many people will die.
“This virus is very, very contagious, and I think you’re going to see new cases really soar.”
States and territories have started easing the COVID-19 restrictions after a three-stage plan was agreed by the national cabinet on Friday, with the aim of full implementation by July.
It is up to the state and territories when they implement each stage.
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Stage one will see people allowed to have five visitors at home, and 10 people in businesses and public places.
Stage two would allow gatherings of 20 people in their homes, in businesses and in public places.
Stage three would see allowable gathering sizes increased to 100, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, meaning pubs and nightclubs could reopen.
Other businesses and places of gathering like food courts and saunas would also reopen.
And the National Cabinet will in stage three consider cross-Tasman and Pacific Island travel, as well as international student travel.
People would be largely encouraged to return to their workplace and all interstate travel would resume, he said.
“It’s our aspiration as agreed among premiers and chief ministers, in July, we would have moved through these three steps through the country,” Mr Morrison said.
More details will be released about stages two and three as time goes on, and depending on the success of stage one, he said.
“We’ll be reviewing progress of our plan every three weeks and making any changes as we need to.
Australia acted fast and early on coronavirus and restrictions are set to relax. But for all our good work so far, complacency now could kill, and a second wave of COVID-19 in Australia, especially in winter, might be a wipeout. #60Mins pic.twitter.com/RxcQ1B2JQt
— 60 Minutes Australia (@60Mins) May 10, 2020
NSW is set to allow cafes and restaurants to re-open for up to 10 patrons from Friday among a series of restrictions being lifted. Victoria too is due it announce its changes on Monday.
But the easing of restrictions could lead to the need for a longer lockdown, Ms Grayson has warned.
“If now you reopen and you see the cases come back, then you’re gonna have to lock down much more broadly and for longer,” she told 60 Minutes.
Ms Grayson’s concerns echo what happened in Hokkaido.
After easing restrictions too early on the Japanese island, there was a second wave of the virus with infections jumping nearly a thousand per cent.
“The second wave is definitely bigger than the first,” Professor Kazuto Suzuki from Hokkaido University told 60 Minutes.
Mr Suzuki warned Australians not to assume the threat is gone as restrictions begin to lift around the country.
“This is a very dangerous virus, you cannot relax,” he said.
One thing’s for sure, the war against coronavirus has a long way to go.
Professor James McCaw from Melbourne University told 60 Minutes: “For me, this is a little bit like a marathon. It feels like we’re way into it but we’re only a kilometre in. That first kilometre is hard, I hope the next 41 aren’t so difficult but there are still a lot of kilometres to go.”
The best way to prevent a devastating second wave in Australia is with comprehensive testing, according to Dr Kamalini Lokuge from Australian National University.
“Everybody who has early symptoms, a mild cough, sore throat, fever, they need to be able to know that they have to get tested and they need to be able to go somewhere and get tested as soon as possible,” Dr Lokuge said.
Dr Lokuge believes Australia is in a strong position to now get through this pandemic with minimal damage, and says the key is testing anyone with even the slightest symptom. #60Mins pic.twitter.com/jmHSL1ch2G
— 60 Minutes Australia (@60Mins) May 10, 2020
If a second wave does hit hard, the Australian health system now has 100 million masks and 7500 ventilators to deal with any future cases.
“We now have the capacity to meet all of the foreseeable scenarios in Australia,” Federal Health Minster Greg Hunt said today.
Australia has recorded 6941 cases of COVID-19, with 3053 in New South Wales, 1487 in Victoria, 1045 in Queensland, 439 in South Australia, 552 in Western Australia, 227 in Tasmania, 107 in the Australian Capital Territory and 30 in the Northern Territory.
Australia’s death toll is at 97.
There are now more than four million known cases of coronavirus worldwide, according to the John Hopkins University tally.