National

Virus cases nearly half of expectations

By AAP Newswire

Australians staying at home and keeping their distance from each other has halved the number of coronavirus cases from earlier expectations.

But the prime minister has urged patience with tough social distancing measures, saying they still need to be in place at least six months.

More than 5300 Australians have caught the virus, while around 650 have recovered and 28 people are dead.

But Scott Morrison said if the rate of new cases each day had kept at the levels of a week-and-a-half ago, Australia could have have had more than 10,500 cases by now.

Instead, the number of new cases is now increasing by an average of just seven per cent a day, compared to around 25 per cent last week.

"That is a tribute to the work that has been done by Australians in getting around and supporting the very sensible measures that have been put in place all around the country by the state and territory governments," Mr Morrison said on Friday.

But it has to continue.

"Doesn't matter what the temperature is, if it's a warm day, don't go in masses down to the beach," Mr Morrison said.

"That's a simple instruction that all Australians expect other Australians to abide by."

Mr Morrison committed to giving a public briefing next Tuesday on the modelling of the likely spread of the virus.

He also warned people the coming Easter holiday had to be one spent at home.

The rules around churches have been relaxed slightly to allow them to hold and broadcast Easter services, but congregations will still not be allowed to attend.

Globally, the number of people with coronavirus has topped a million but Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the true number of cases could be as high as 10 million.

"The only numbers I have total faith in are the Australian numbers, frankly, because we have the highest testing rate in the world," he told reporters.

A leading infectious disease expert says it appears the restrictions on businesses that can be open have not just flattened the curve of new infection rates but actually made it go down.

However, Peter Collignon has cautioned that the draconian policing of lockdowns seen in NSW and Victoria in particular weren't medically necessary and could turn people off the social distancing that would be needed for quite some time yet.

"How can somebody outside, two metres away from everybody else in the sunshine, possibly either give or get the virus from anyone else?" he told AAP.

"It just strikes me as non-sensible because the time when we need people to comply with maybe more stringent things is winter."

While he thinks restrictions on places such as pubs, clubs and other areas where people gather should be in place until September or October, governments should have held off tougher restrictions on travel until they could see if things started getting out of control during winter's flu season.

Mr Morrison urged Australians to make patience their guiding virtue.

Now the virus spread has been largely suppressed, the national cabinet of state and federal leaders has turned its thoughts to what the recovery phase will look like.

It decided on Friday to allow working holiday makers in Australia to help pick fruit in the coming season, but they must quarantine themselves for 14 days before travelling to regions and register that self-isolation with the government ahead of time.

And commercial landlords will have to take the economic impact of coronavirus into account when determining possible rental waivers for business tenants.

A new mandatory code for tenancies is expected to be finalised next week, but any breaks from rent would only be given to businesses who are eligible for the JobKeeper wage subsidies.

That means their income would have had to have dropped by 30 per cent, or 50 per cent for those with turnovers above $1 billion, because of the virus.

Federal parliament will return next Wednesday to pass legislation underpinning the $130 billion wage subsidy plan and other measures.