Australia is continuing its remarkable fight against the coronavirus, with three states recording no new infections on Friday.
Just 17 new cases of COVID-19, the killer respiratory virus which was crippled dozens of other countries, were recorded in Australia in the 24 hours from midnight on Thursday.
It was a slight increase from the previous day, when just eight new patients were confirmed, but is the result of testing being ramped up across the country.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the promising infection rate has prompted the government to begin plans to restart sport and get Australians back to work.
These are likely to be the first coronavirus restrictions to be lifted, with the government understood to be considering scrapping the two-person gathering rule.
The relatively low rate of infection comes despite widespread testing across the country, with New South Wales now offering free testing to all residents.
Beachgoers are seen embracing on the sand at Bronte Beach on Friday (pictured) as Australians started to venture outdoors during the coronavirus lockdown
Australia recorded just 17 new coronavirus cases on Friday, down from a peak of 460 in a single day back on March 28
NSW and Victoria both recorded six new cases on Friday, while Tasmania confirmed two more people had tested positive to the virus.
There were also two new cases in Western Australia, which also suffered the death of a German passenger from the Artania cruise ship, who had battled the virus in ICU in Perth for weeks.
Australian Capital Territory had one new case, while South Australia and the Northern Territory had none.
While Queensland confirmed just two – the state also discounted two from the previous day, meaning its total did not change.
In NSW, a fifth resident of Anglicare’s Newmarch House aged care home in Sydney – which has become a coronavirus cluster – died from the virus.
Workers are seen screening for COVID-19 at a drive through testing facility in Perth on Friday (pictured) as testing for the virus was ramped up across the country
Five residents of Anglicare’s Newmarch House (pictured) in western Sydney have now died from coronavirus after an infected staff member worked there for six days
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 6,677
New South Wales: 2,982
Western Australia: 548
South Australia: 438
Australian Capital Territory: 105
Northern Territory: 28
TOTAL CASES: 6,677
The 96-year-old woman died on Friday from COVID-19, after a staff member went to work for six days despite having symptoms.
It has prompted urgent calls from medical officials for workers, especially those who care for vulnerable people, to stay home if they feel even mildly ill.
A spokesman for Anglicare’s Newmarch House in Caddens said the woman was able to spend her final moments with a loved one.
Two women, one in their 70s and another in her 90s, and two men, both in their 90s, have already died from the virus at the Sydney care home.
Some 44 people at Newmarch House – 29 residents and 15 staff – have been infected with COVID-19.
NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian spoke on Friday morning to confirm the state had seven new cases, but one has since been discounted.
Police officers on horseback are seen patrolling Coogee Beach in Sydney on Friday (pictured) shortly after swimmers were booted out of the area as the beach was closed down
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian (pictured on Friday) has urged all residents with coronavirus symptoms to get tested
The German man who died overnight, who was in his 70s, had been a passenger on board the Artania cruise ship, which left Fremantle on April 18 (pictured)
She has also urged all residents concerned about coronavirus symptoms to get tested.
Until now testing was only available for residents if they had returned from overseas, had contact with an infected person or lived in a hotspot area.
But Ms Berejiklian announced that anyone with symptoms such as a cough or a fever could get tested.
‘If you have symptoms, if you are worried you have COVID-19, if you have been in contact with anyone and you are concerned you have the disease, please come forward and get tested,’ she said.
A swimmer is seen being escorted off Sydney’s Coogee Beach on Friday (pictured) after ignoring council orders that the beach had been closed
With the curve flattening, beachgoers flocked to Sydney’s Coogee Beach on Friday (pictured) but the crowds forced the council to close the beach down
HOW HAS AUSTRALIA BEATEN COVID-19?
Australia’s infection rates are in stark contrast to those in many other G20 countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Italy and Spain.
Australian health experts say the infection rate has been steadied due to several factors:
– Widespread testing
– The tracing of carriers
– Self-isolation of those at risk
– Strictly-enforced social distancing
– Quick restrictions on travel
– An early ban on travel from China
– The isolation of all Australian arrivals
The first case of COVID-19 infection in Australia – a Chinese citizen who had arrived from Guangzhou on January 19 – was reported in Melbourne on January 25.
Six days later Australia banned the entry of foreign nationals from China and ordered citizens returning from that country to self-isolate for 14 days.
That rule was further extended to anyone entering the country on March 15.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison then took the decision to close the country’s borders on Friday March 20.
In Tasmania, another death was recorded overnight after a 79-year-old woman died in the Launceston General Hospital, taking the state’s death toll to nine.
Speaking on Friday night, Dr Scott McKeown, the acting director of Public Health Services, confirmed both of the state’s new cases were men aged in their 20s.
‘Both are close contacts of a previously confirmed case, this bring the state tally to 207,’ he said, confirming both men are from the island’s north west.
The outbreak in northwest Tasmania has been linked to the doomed Ruby Princess cruise ship, which was controversially allowed to dock in Sydney on March 19 – releasing thousands of passengers into the country.
Mr Morrison said health experts will soon release guidance on how to make professional and community sport safe.
‘Community sport is such an important part of our way of life here in Australia, and these principles can help guide decisions by states and territories in the future,’ he said on Friday.
The NRL has already announced plans to resume the season on May 28, although the exact arrangements are yet to be revealed.
Mr Morrison said experts will also release principles that businesses can follow make workplaces safe to return to.
The guidance will advise what workers should do if one of their colleagues gets coronavirus.
A graph showing the number of new infections in various countries, starting on the day they first recorded five infections
Beachgoers are seen leaving Sydney’s Coogee Beach on Friday (pictured) after officials closed the area due to overcrowding
‘We also agreed National COVID-19 safe workplace principles. This is all about getting Australians back to work,’ the prime minister said.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the National Cabinet has asked experts to provide ‘recommendations for gently, carefully, cautiously relaxing distancing measures’.
This could involve relaxing restrictions on the number of people allowed to gather in public, he said.
Professor Murphy also announced that every state and territory now has the capacity to test everyone who has coronavirus symptoms.
He also praised the government’s contact tracing app which is due to be rolled out next week.
As of Friday night, Australia recorded 6,677 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with the death toll standing at 79
‘We’re putting in place the world’s best testing and public health and surveillance regime before we relax any measures,’ he said when asked if he feared a second wave of the virus erupting in Australia.
Australia has become the envy of the world, with most of the other G20 nations continuing to suffer widespread deaths from the outbreak, which began in China.
The country’s exceptional fight against the virus has been linked to the early closing of borders with China, the ban on all international arrivals and widespread testing.
On February 1, when there were 14,000 recorded cases in the world, Australia banned flights from China – despite the World Health Organisation advising against the move.
Professor Murphy said he told the prime minister to ban flights from China on a Saturday morning and the measures were announced that night.
‘No Australian wants to see hundreds of people dying a day from coronavirus,’ he said of the continued lockdown.
A woman is seen leaving the ocean at Bronte Beach on Friday (pictured) after enjoying a swim as Australia continues to flatten the coronavirus curve
Testing has been ramped up across the country, with drive-through testing facilities – including this one in Perth (pictured on Friday) popping up in several states
‘We are not prepared to see that, and that’s why we are being so cautious and we are putting in these extraordinary surveillance measures.
‘We want to be testing 40,000, 50,000 Australians a day if necessary.’
Mr Morrison also warned aged care homes to stop preventing residents from seeing family.
Aged care homes may have to seek a special exemption if they want to ban visitors or confine residents to their rooms, he said.
Mr Morrison said if facilities that had gone beyond baseline coronavirus requirements did not return to that level and allow each resident two visitors a day, his government would make it mandatory.
He said nursing homes would have to argue why they had a ‘very real and serious medical reason’ to need a tighter lockdown.
Finally, he said Parliament will sit on May 12, 13 and 14 to pass ‘a couple’ of bills relating to coronavirus.
People are seen on Sydney’s Manly beach on Thursday (pictured) which is open for exercise only
On Thursday, Professor Murphy said going shopping with friends and team sport could be allowed again when the National Cabinet reviews coronavirus restrictions on May 11.
He suggested the national guidance that prevents gatherings of more than two people in public could be relaxed to allow friends and families to come together.
But Professor Murphy said larger gatherings such concerts and festivals – as well as international travel – were out of the question.
‘We certainly would not be contemplating large-scale gatherings. But certainly some relaxation of the size of small groups is possible,’ he told the senate select committee scrutinising the government’s virus response.
‘There are a range of measures that [the National Cabinet has] asked us to consider – things like community sport, some retail measures.