Brendan Murphy and Scott Morrison in Canberra today. Picture: Gary Ramage
Brendan Murphy and Scott Morrison in Canberra today. Picture: Gary Ramage

Short-term shutdown ‘will achieve nothing’

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy has bluntly defended the government's approach to containing the coronavirus, saying a short-term shutdown of society would "not achieve anything" and any measures need to be "sustainable" for at least six months.

Professor Murphy appeared alongside Scott Morrison for a press conference in Canberra this morning, where the Prime Minister announced stringent new rules aimed at slowing the virus's spread.

Most significantly, the government has elevated its travel advice to "do not travel" for the entire world, and banned all non-essential gatherings of 100 people or more.

Notably, however, schools will continue to remain open, despite fierce criticism from some parts of the community. Mr Morrison addressed that issue directly, stressing that closing schools now would not be sustainable.

"Whatever we do we have to do for at least six months," he said.

"That means the disruption that would occur from the closure of schools around this country, make no mistake, would be severe.

"What do I mean by severe? Tens of thousands of jobs could be lost, if not more. The impact on the availability of health workers - a 30% impact on the availability of health workers is our advice. That will put peoples' lives at risk.

"Let's keep our heads as parents when it comes to this. Let's do the right thing by the country and by each other and follow the proper advice. There is a national public interest here in keeping schools open and our advice is that is not being done at the detriment at the health of any child.

"Right now, that is the advice and we need to ensure that when we're putting these scalable and sustainable measures in place, that we are doing things that improve the situation, not worsen the situation and lessen our capacity to deal with this."

Scott Morrison in Canberra this morning. Picture: Gary Ramage
Scott Morrison in Canberra this morning. Picture: Gary Ramage

Prof Murphy reinforced that argument when he spoke a short time later, bluntly rejecting the idea of imposing a "short-term shutdown" of Australia.

"A short-term, two to four week shutdown of society is not recommended by any of our experts. It does not achieve anything," he said.

"We want to be in this for the long haul. As the Prime Minister said, it could be six months or more that we have to practice these new ways of interacting. So therefore, our measures have to be sustainable.

"There is no way that we can lock down society and make everyone stay home, and then in a month's time undo that, because the virus will just flare up again without any real long-term benefit. We have to have sustainable measures."

Prof Murphy, too, directly addressed the government's decision to keep schools open.

"I'd like to specifically address schools," he said.

"In China, only 2.4 per cent of the cases reported in Hubei Province were in people under 19. Children have very, very few instances of clinical disease, and if they do, of even more severe disease.

"This is quite different to influenza and other respiratory diseases, which have quite severe disease sometimes in children.

"We believe strongly that it's in the best interest of our children and the nation at this time to keep schools open.

"There may be occasions when there's a big outbreak in a community that some school closures might be necessary. But at this time, across the community, our view is that schools should stay open."

More generally, he urged all Australians to be mindful of practising effective social distancing in every interaction with other people.

"It is every individual Australian's responsibility to practice good social distancing. Keep away from each other where possible. Practice really good hand hygiene - wash your hands with soap and water at every opportunity you get," said Prof Murphy.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy. Picture: Gary Ramage
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy. Picture: Gary Ramage

Mr Morrison expanded on the issue of school closures as he fielded questions from reporters, pointing to the example of Singapore, which has had success containing the virus despite its schools staying open.

"The health advice is that schools should remain open," the prime minister said just now .

"This is also what Singapore has done. Singapore has been one of the more successful countries. In Singapore, the schools are open."

He said the health advice is supported by all the state Premiers, all the Chief Ministers and his government.

"There are a number of reasons for this," he said. "The first one is that the virus operates very differently amongst younger people.

"It has a different manifestation amongst younger people and that presents a very different health challenge to the broader population.

"In terms of the health and welfare of our children, many of us here are parents and obviously we are concerned about the health of our kids and the health advice that I'm happy to follow for my kids, for Jenny and my kids, is the same health advice I am asking all other parents around the country to follow.

"We all love our kids and there is nothing we wouldn't do for them. I am telling you that, as a father, I'm happy for my kids to go to school."

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