Universities and schools could be the first places reopened as part of a gradual rolling back of coronavirus restrictions, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has suggested.
Mr Barr has for the first time hinted at a potential exit strategy for the ACT after NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian flagged the possibility of relaxing some restrictions as soon as next month.
Ms Berejiklian earlier this week said social distancing - such as the 1.5 metre rule - would be a "way of life" until a vaccine was developed for COVID-19.
On Wednesday she warned of the risk of relaxing restrictions, but did open the door for some measures to be wound back if that was the advice of health experts.
NSW is set to review its restrictions on a monthly basis. A similar process is in place in the ACT.
While Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith has approved a 90-day extension to the territory's public health emergency declaration, the chief health officer will advise her at least every 30 days on whether it was still justified.
Speaking to The Canberra Times on Wednesday morning, Mr Barr said a decision on relaxing restrictions in Canberra would depend on health advice, assessment of potential risks and the status of the national strategy for fighting the virus.
He said rather than easing restrictions community-wide, the government might look to relax measures for certain "cohorts".
"Younger people are proven to be either asymptomatic or much more resilient, so you would perhaps look to those areas first," he said.
"So it's childcare, schools, possibly TAFE and university ... in a managed context.
"But if you look at the illness rate, and the severity of illness for people of 60, the relaxation might not be across the board. It might be in particular settings and for particular cohorts."
"[But every decision] would be based on a purely risk-based model."
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Barr said the topic of easing restrictions had been discussed by the national cabinet. But he cautioned that any changes "were a fair way away".
He said in the case of universities or vocational training institutions, the first step might be to reopen laboratories for a teacher and a small group of students.
Mr Barr earlier reiterated that a vaccine was the only way to immunize the population from the virus.
In the interim, politicians and policy makers were faced with a scenario in which there were "no good choices ... only degrees of bad".
"It's something many politicians haven't encountered before and many in the public as well," Mr Barr said.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government wanted to do everything it could to stop further community transmission of the virus before it started rolling back restrictions.
Mr Hunt said restrictions would likely be relaxed in stages, allowing for the changes to be "tested and reversed" as needed.
"We are very clear that we believe that this is a six month process," he said.
"[But] that doesn't mean all of the restrictions are in place [for the whole time]."
While a decline in new case numbers in the ACT and across the country has been welcomed by health authorities and political leaders, they have been quick to warn the public that the fight against the virus is far from over.
"For now and certainly over the weeks ahead the lesson is simple, we must continue to do what we are doing, that is how we get through this," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday.
- For information on COVID-19, please go to the federal Health Department's website.
- You can also call the Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080
- If you have serious symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, call Triple Zero (000)
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