Tired of Zoom calls, and missing the faces of friends and family?
- From midnight tonight, families with children will be allowed to visit each other
- Canberrans have been encouraged to shop again, while maintaining social distancing
- Restrictions may be eased further at a National Cabinet meeting next week
Well, things are about to become a little more relaxed in Canberra when it comes to social distancing, now that the ACT is the first jurisdiction to reach zero active cases.
The changes announced today by the ACT Government are the first amendments to the social distancing measures put in place when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.
So, to avoid confusion, it is time to do a stocktake: what can and cannot happen in Canberra, under these new social distancing measures?
How many friends and family can I have around?
From midnight Friday, families can start to visit other families, essentially allowing ‘playdates’ to occur.
Children will no longer be counted in the ‘two-person rule’ around visits to other households, meaning two parents and their kids can visit another family in their home.
Beyond that, the two-person rule remains in place. So, if you do not have kids, just you and one other person can visit another household.
That does allow for, say, a small dinner party — which Chief Minister Andrew Barr said is perfectly reasonable.
“I think it’s ok, in the Canberra context, to be able to have someone over for dinner,” he said.
“It’d be a small dinner party — a gathering of four people, or six people, not a really large gathering.”
Can I visit friends and family in Sydney, or on the coast?
Travel into New South Wales is back on the cards, for the purpose of visiting family and friends.
Families can visit households in Sydney, down on the South Coast, or anywhere else within New South Wales.
But once in New South Wales, everyone is subject to the tougher rules in that state.
That includes the ban on non-essential travel — you cannot be outside the home you are visiting without a good reason, like exercise or shopping for groceries.
And that likely rules out day trips into New South Wales to do things like go to the beach.
Can I go to the shops?
The ACT Government wants a few more people back in the shops, and said shopping for “non-essential items” like clothes is now fine.
To be clear, shopping was never actually banned in the ACT. There is no ban on being outside for non-essential purposes, and shops have not been forced to close.
However, most fashion retailers opted to close their doors anyway, either as a health precaution or because customers were choosing not to come.
Mr Barr said he does not expect all retailers to open immediately, and physical distancing must continue inside shops as it currently does in places like supermarkets.
But he said the advice has changed — and people should feel a bit more comfortable to head to the shopping centre.
“This is not an open invitation for 50,000 Canberrans to go into a major shopping centre,” he said.
“You are allowed to shop beyond just a supermarket. And we do want to support local retailers as they progressively reopen.”
When are public schools going to reopen?
A firm decision has not been made about when ACT public schools will return to face-to-face learning during term two; the Government says they will prepare to do so “if the circumstances allow us to do that sensibly”.
Some independent schools have already outlined their plans to return to normal classroom learning from as soon as May 11.
ACT public schools have the capacity to stick it out with remote learning for all of term two if needed, but Mr Barr has made clear planning is underway to bring students back sooner than that.
“We believe that with the position that we are in and where we hope to be in the weeks to come, that that will be possible,” he said.
He is also coming under a bit of political pressure to do so — the Canberra Liberals are suggesting schools should return as soon as practicable, given the health advice that they are safe to run.
Can I go check out the snow this weekend?
There is snow on the hills around Canberra, but you probably won’t get a close-up look at it.
The Namadgi National Park remains closed after the January bushfires, as does Tidbinbilla.
Corin Forest is also closed, along with all campgrounds in the ACT.
That does not mean you can’t see the snow from a distance, of course — you can still go for a walk up Mt Ainslie, and catch the view south from the top.
When will things be relaxed even further?
National Cabinet will meet again next week, and easing restrictions on a national basis is very much on the agenda.
One possible change Mr Barr mentioned is raising the social gathering limit up to a ten-person limit.
“That’s certainly something that is on the agenda, and I think next week would be a reasonable timeframe for that to be considered,” he said.
“But I think what we’ve announced today, in relation to household units, family units, being able to visit each other, is a bit of a down payment in that general direction.”
Mr Barr has also confirmed conversations are being had around the re-opening of national parks and campgrounds.
And what about going back to the pub, as the other Territorians will soon be able to do?
Mr Barr said is simply too early to speculate on measures like that.