’No hugs’ at Christmas to stop COVID spread
In an emotional blow to thousands of Aussie families this Christmas, health experts have maintained their "no hugging" advice as a last line of defence against COVID-19.
As millions of people in Europe and the US are warned not to travel or hold large Christmas events, Australians are preparing for a relatively normal holiday season at home, but have been warned they must stay vigilant.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has praised Australians for their handwork in successfully suppressing the virus across the nation, and welcomed news every border was on track to reopen by Christmas, but has advised against physical contact outside households.
"Maintain the distancing habits," he said.
"And that's whether it's the hand hygiene, whether it's the cough (into elbow), whether it's not handshaking yet, not hugging people from your household.
"I know they're slightly counterintuitive, and they're contrary to our nature, but these are the things that have kept us safe this year."
Mr Hunt said on Christmas Day families could enjoy being in a room together and sitting around the same table, but the health advice remained to limit physical contact.
"Maintaining the physical touch for the household, but not for others … that's still the medical advice," he said.
As Western Australia opened its borders to NSW and Victoria, and Queensland on track to reopen to South Australia, Mr Hunt said he expected domestic travel to be completely open "well before Christmas".
But he said every state and territory also had enforceable rules about the size of gatherings allowed, and urged Australians to "observe those rules".
"Following that common sense those rules are still very important for keeping us safe, but we've done an amazing job," Mr Hunt said.
"The world looks at Australia and says, 'wow, how did you do it, and we wish you were in your position'.
"We've got a little bit more to go."
Mr Hunt also revealed Australia would extend its ban on cruise ships for another three months, extending the current biosecurity measures to March 17.
Under the extension, international travel out of Australia will remain limited.
Acting Chief Health Officer Professor Paul Kelly said the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee did not take the advice to maintain the ban on the multimillion-dollar cruise industry"lightly".
"Of course we weighed out all of the issues … particularly the ongoing situation internationally, and the sort of risks that could come to Australia if we relaxed at this point," he said.
Prof Kelly said Australia was on the "cusp" of having vaccines distributed domestically, and the health experts would continually review the options for the cruising industry, particularly for domestic travel.
"Throughout this, this whole time we have kept in close contact with the cruise ship industry," he said.
"We've kept them updated on our thinking around these things, but for the moment for the next three months according to the biosecurity arrangements … that (ban) will remain in place."
Originally published as 'No hugs' at Christmas to stop COVID spread