Australia's national cabinet to set timetable to reopen economy in several stages

Morrison government’s move to ease corona virus restrictions comes as it worries about the mounting cost of lock-downs.


The Morrison government wants to emerge from Friday’s national cabinet meeting with a timetable for reopening parts of the economy in several stages, with intervals between easing the restrictions of up to four weeks to establish whether Covid-19 infections have flared, and manage any outbreaks.


While the premiers from the two most populous states warned on Thursday that easing restrictions too quickly could trigger a second wave of infections, undoing the progress in flattening the curve, Canberra remains concerned about the mounting fiscal and economic costs of the restrictions.

One of the pressing concerns is the banks are stretched because they are carrying loan repayment deferrals in the order of $160bn to try to help households and businesses ride out the economic shock of the pandemic.


The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority has told the government the total number of loans subject to repayment deferrals is currently 6% of mortgages and 13% of loans to small and medium businesses.


Guardian Australia understands the plan for Friday’s deliberation about easing restrictions has been worked up in consultation with the chief medical advisers and it has been circulated to the states. It is likely Friday’s meeting will set an aspiration target rather than a concrete commitment for when the lock-downs will end.


Morrison has told the states there are five steps associated with managing the risks of the corona virus, starting with delivering relief and supports to the community during the lock-downs, gradually reopening the economy, then providing confidence to ensure Australians feel safe participating in the economy and society again, then resetting policy on the other side to ensure economic growth comes back during the recovery phase.


The treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, intends to provide a more comprehensive stock-take of the cost of the interventions and the impact of the pandemic on key economic indicators in a ministerial statement to parliament on Tuesday.


Morrison will also participate on Thursday night in a hookup between nations that have dubbed themselves “the first movers” – countries that have been successful at flattening the curve of infections. The leaders of Austria, Greece, Israel, Denmark, Singapore, New Zealand and the Czech Republic will compare notes about the strategies they have used.

Some of the smaller states in Australia are already moving towards a reopening of some services and an easing of the social distancing restrictions, but New South Wales and Victoria have expressed public reluctance to go hard too quickly.


Earlier on Thursday, the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said if the restrictions were unwound too quickly Australia could end up with a second outbreak. Andrews said Australia had to stay the course and not let frustration “get the better of us”.


“There are parts of the world that let off restrictions very early – they thought they had beaten it, turned out they hadn’t,” the premier said. “They now have even stricter lock-downs in place than they ever had, before they let their frustrations get the better of them, perhaps, and changed the settings.”


The NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said the objective was to return to normal as soon as possible but “we don’t want to have a spike in cases that exceeds what we can manage”.


NSW and Victoria – the states with the highest number of corona virus infections – led the lock-downs of non-essential services in March, and it has been a consistent dynamic inside the national cabinet that the two most populous states are more strongly in favor of restrictions than some of the smaller states.


Morrison has already telegraphed his expectation that different states will relax restrictions at different times after any agreement on Friday, but he has also argued it will be up to the premiers to explain those differences to their constituents.


All governments are expecting an increase in the number of Covid-19 infections when the restrictions come off, but officials argue the health system is better prepared to deal with the caseload than it was at the start of the pandemic.


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Australia's national cabinet to set timetable to reopen economy in several stages Murphy - https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/may/07/australias-national-cabinet-to-set-timetable-to-reopen-economy-in-several-stages


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