Why we’re unlikely to be shaking hands ‘anytime soon’

THE family dinner could be one of the first social gatherings allowed as we come out of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Epidemiologists advising the Federal Government said the best approach to ending the lockdown may be lifting one restriction at a time - like allowing extended family gatherings.

Epidemiologists Dr Kathryn Snow and Professor James McCaw, from the University of Melbourne, have predicted that after dinners - schools opening and relaxing restrictions on public transport would follow to test whether it leads to the infection spreading.

Foreign travel, mass gatherings, large conferences and weddings will be the last restrictions to be lifted as Australia moves to end the lockdown.

But the experts have also warned that even though we appeared to be close to eradicating the virus in Australia, that outcome is not guaranteed as there may be many asymptomatic cases we have not detected and eradication is a matter of luck.

Both Professor McCaw and Dr Snow agreed small gatherings of extended families had a lower risk of spreading COVID-19 and could be allowed early on as the lockdown was eased.

"I think these sorts of very small groups, repeated week-to-week-type interactions ... if they are well managed and ... (cancelled) if someone's got a sniffle, there is a good argument that these things should be able to go ahead especially when community prevalence is low," Prof McCaw said.

"I think these are the sorts of things we all crave."

It comes as health officials warn Queenslanders against getting too comfortable the state sees the number of new cases drop severely.

Businesses remain closed across the city. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) \
Businesses remain closed across the city. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt) \

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Strict social distancing laws remain in place and are expected to continue, with more than 90,000 people now having been tested for the deadly virus.

The state's total sits at 1026 cases as of yesterday morning. There are 53 active cases on the Gold Coast of a total 190 people

Asked about people deciding to breach distancing laws as cases declined across the state, Queensland's Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young said she was "of course" concerned.

"It is a concern because the restrictions in place at the moment are (difficult)," she said in Wednesday morning's briefing.

"I don't underestimate what it means for individuals, for families and for communities to follow these restrictions.

Queensland Chief Medical officer Dr Jeanette Young. Picture AAPimage/David Clark
Queensland Chief Medical officer Dr Jeanette Young. Picture AAPimage/David Clark

"But we know they've got to remain in place until we can work out the impact. We know it takes two incubation periods before we can see the impact of changes that have occurred.

"So we really need to focus at the moment and then work out what are the restrictions that can be lifted, and that's a discussion that is happening here in Queensland and at national cabinet."

Gold Coast Medical Association boss Philip Morris echoed her concerns, adding it was likely to be a "long time" before people could expect to return to shaking hands and visiting friends.

"The first thing they'll look at is what area of the economy you get most bang for your buck by releasing," he said.

Popular tourist spots are deserted. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)\
Popular tourist spots are deserted. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)\

"That's where we make most of our money, in mining, exporting food, iron ore, coal, those areas where we can return the economy but also keep the people doing the work safe.

"Then it will go from there.

"There will be other businesses we regard as being essential which have been locked down at the moment like elective surgery, private hospitals that have been used as needed because we thought we'd get huge numbers of patients.

"Gradually there will be an educational move back to schools.

"There will be some things that won't change any time soon, and that will be that people will be told not to shake hands or to cough into their elbow."

A respiratory clinic has opened on the Gold Coast. Picture Glenn Hampson
A respiratory clinic has opened on the Gold Coast. Picture Glenn Hampson

A Queensland Health spokesperson said the low number of cases was an indication social distancing measures were beginning to take effect.

"While the increase in cases of COVID-19 has slowed and we are seeing positive signs that Queensland is flattening the curve, we need to keep up our current approach," they said.

"It is important we sustain these numbers over a period of weeks before we can look into lifting restrictions.

"When it's appropriate to do so, we will see if we can ease some restrictions - in conjunction with National Cabinet - that will not lead to a bounce-back of cases.

"We cannot risk seeing a second wave of infections or uncontrolled community spread of COVID-19."

A Gold Coast City Council representative confirmed the "bigger decisions" surrounding social distancing and business closures would be made by Queensland Health and the Federal Government.

It comes just days after two of the city's most popular beaches - Surfers Paradise and Coolangatta - reopened following less than two weeks of closures.

The Spit and its surrounding carparks remain closed until further notice.

Mayor Tom Tate told media on Tuesday he had recently received feedback locals were now following the rules.

"Gold Coasters are doing the right thing and social distancing," he said at the time, and urged people to continue exercising in their own neighbourhoods.

"Red and yellow flags will remain down across all beaches, however our lifeguards will continue to conduct general surveillance."

 

Originally published as Why we're unlikely to be shaking hands 'anytime soon'