Scott Morrison’s late-night press conference was outlining tough new social distancing restrictions was “clear as mud” and “confusing”.
That’s the assessment of Labor, which has accused the Prime Minister of focusing too much on politics and not the immediate health and economic needs of Australians.
“I watched the Prime Minister statement and it was confusing,” Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said.
“It was the reading out of a list. The Prime Minister actually spoke about details in which he himself then went on to say he did not know what it was. Australians are confused.”
Strict social distancing measures were upgraded again on Tuesday, with Mr Morrison announcing a raft of new restrictions on everyday life in a bid to slow the rapid spread of coronavirus.
But he has been criticised for the range of exceptions and not clearly delivering the government’s message.
“Quite frankly, the announcement of five people at weddings, 10 people at funerals, other numbers at different activities, is just causing confusion out there,” Mr Albanese said.
“Hairdressers are saying they can’t function with a 30-minute limit and will be better off simply being told that they need to close.
“Australians are confused. They are confused that teachers cannot have a wedding with more than five but are expected to teach entire classes of more than 25 students.
“They are confused that each day the government seems to be making different announcements about the way they should act, about what activity they can undertake, and about social distancing measures that are confusing.”
You can still head to a shopping centre and go into a clothes shop to buy a T-shirt, but you now can’t sit down to eat at the food court.
Nail bars, beauty salons and spray tan shops must shut down after midnight on Wednesday, but hairdressers can operate under new restrictions.
Organised team sport is banned but attending a boot camp session in the park is fine, so long as it’s capped at no more than 10 people and everyone stays 1.5m apart.
You can’t dine in at a restaurant because it puts a lot of people in a confined space … but it’s still safe to send your kid to school, where they sit in a room with 30-odd other children.
“The Prime Minister last night was unfortunately as clear as mud,” Labor Senator Penny Wong told ABC News Breakfast today.
“We got a catalogue of things that Australians shouldn’t do, and I think it would be much better if we had clear and consistent information to Australians across the country, so people are clear about what we have to do to protect ourselves, our families and each other in this unprecedented crisis.”
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Following a meeting of the national cabinet, Mr Morrison last night outlined a number of new restrictions on businesses that provide services “where there is a lot of contact”.
“The following now won’t be able to continue – beauty therapy, tanning, waxing, nail salons and tattoo parlours, and the same for spa and massage parlours,” the PM said.
“That excludes health-related services in those areas, physiotherapists, things of that nature, health-related and allied health services.”
However, hairdressers and barbers can continue to operate provided they are exercising social distancing, with no more than one person per four square metres.
“And on top of that, to restrict the amount of time a patron is in the premises to no more than 30 minutes and preferably less.”
Mr Morrison urged Australians not to congregate together in groups outside, before quickly adding: “It’s very difficult to put a number on it.”
“But the point about it is this, if you’re gathering together in a group, say 10 people together outside in a group, that’s not OK. We’ve got to move people on.
“It’s not a hard and fast rule. I say it only for illustrative purposes.”
So, socialising outdoors in groups is discouraged, but it’s not a firm rule, and more than 10 might be too many but there’s no specific number.
Similarly, Mr Morrison spoke last night about Australians who “have people over”.
“Visits to your premises, to your house, to your residence, should be kept to a minimum and with very small numbers of guests,” he said.
“We don’t want to be overly specific about that. We want Australians to exercise their common sense.
“So that means barbecues of lots of friends or even family, extended family coming together to celebrate one-year-old birthday parties and all these sorts of things, we can’t do those things now.”
Gyms and other fitness studios, yoga classes and wellness centres or spas must now close.
However, boot camps and personal training can carry on outdoors provided groups are limited to a maximum of 10 people, and social distancing arrangements are strictly enforced.
Mr Morrison sparked confusion when he stumbled on his words and said “food courts and shopping centres will not be allowed to continue”.
When asked to clarify later, Mr Morrison confirmed that shopping centres will remain open, but food courts will not.
A similar misstep occurred on Sunday night when the PM advised that indoor sporting venues would close, and then later in his press conference, added in gyms to his advice.
What should Australians avoid doing and what’s still acceptable in the rapidly changing environment?
South Australia’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr Nicola Spurrier was blunt in her advice.
“It’s incredibly important for us to stay as well and far away from other people as possible,” Dr Spurrier said.
“I need to stress the importance of that. As a community, we’re used to going about our business and moving around and doing as we please. From this point forth, I’m asking you to try to restrict your movements.
“Stay at home as much as possible. And certainly, if you’re ill, to please stay away from other people and stay at home until you’ve recovered.”
Mr Morrison will today meet with the education union to discuss future arrangements for schools, which he insisted should remain open.
“The medical expert advice on schools has not changed,” he said. “It is safe to send your children to school.”
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Monday told parents to keep their kids home if they were able to, although stressed that schools would operate for those who couldn’t. Similar advice came from Queensland.
Today, the NSW Government announced that TAFE colleges would shut down from next Monday.
Another source of massive confusion relates to the tens of thousands of people, now suddenly out of work, trying to access emergency welfare.
On Monday, Minister for Government Services Stuart Robert told Australians queued outside of Centrelink offices in massive numbers across the country that they could register online.
Mr Robert advised that from Tuesday, people could register an intent to claim online via the issue-plagued MyGov website, removing the need to visit a Centrelink office in person.
But that functionality actually didn’t roll out until Wednesday morning.
“Queues around the nation, crashing websites and so-called phone ‘help lines’ that are understaffed and with hours-long waiting times are not good enough,” Bill Shorten, Labor’s spokesman for government services, said.
“It is not sufficient for (Mr Robert) to fail to have the MyGov website and Centrelink shopfronts prepared for foreseeable demand, to confect a story – later retracted – about a hostile denial of service attack on the site and then flippantly say ‘my bad’ about the whole mess.”
Hank Jongen, the boss of Services Australia, which runs Centrelink, insisted today that the MyGov website was up to the challenge.
“What I’m trying to say to people is, you don’t need to queue. You don’t need to ring us. You can now lodge your intent to claim through MyGov,” Mr Jongen said on ABC News 24.
Australians trying to keep up with the rapidly expanding restrictions on socialisation will have to prepare for further bans.
National Cabinet will meet again tonight. The next stage of measures is being designed at present.
“We will be living with this virus for at least six months, so social distancing measures to slow this virus down must be sustainable for at least that long to protect Australian lives, allow Australia to keep functioning and keep Australians in jobs,” Mr Morrison said.