Department of Health speaks on return of music festivals amidst easing coronavirus restrictions

"Large scale events would require the approval of the jurisdiction where they are held"

The Australian Department of Health has provided clarification around the return of large-scale events such as music festivals. This comes amidst easing coronavirus restrictions in Australia, and days after Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brendan Murphy’s comments that festivals and nightclubs were unlikely to return or reopen “in the foreseeable future”.

Earlier this week in a Q&A, Dr. Murphy said, “Unless you’re absolutely, completely confident about your borders, your testing, your surveillance, you can’t relax a measure of distancing.”

“We certainly would not be contemplating large-scale gatherings. It’s hard for me to envisage reopening of nightclubs and big music festivals in the foreseeable future.”

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Today (May 1), a spokesperson for the Australian Government Department of Health issued a statement to NME Australia in response to a request for clarification of Dr. Murphy’s comments.

In particular, the Department clarified that “large scale events would require the approval of the jurisdiction where they are held”.

The spokesperson also specified that when events such as festivals and concerts are permitted, they may still require “significant measures to maintain social distancing and to support good hygiene”.

Today, some states have eased coronavirus restrictions, as the BBC reports: The Northern Territory has reopened public parks and pools and removed attendance limits on gatherings as of noon today. New South Wales now allows households to have two adult visitors at a time.

The Australian Government will hold a meeting next Friday – brought forward by three days – to review restrictions.

“The National Cabinet will continue to meet and consider the latest health advice through the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, who are considering a careful and vigilant approach to rolling back restrictions,” reads the Department of Health’s statement to NME Australia.

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“The AHPPC and National Cabinet want to be absolutely sure before any restrictions are eased that we are really well prepared in our public health response for any outbreaks that can occur.”

“We’ve seen already how infectious the coronavirus is. We saw early on in the outbreak how quickly one wedding can infect 35 people. We’ve seen how it spread during an outbreak in north-west Tasmania. We need to be absolutely sure we’re not missing cases in the community and that we’re prepared before changing the restrictions. Current AHPPC advice around gatherings of people are general and are not specific to the type of activity taking place whether music festivals, sporting events or the like.”

The Department acknowledged in the statement that the arts, music and cultural sectors are among the industries that have been impacted by restrictions put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The AHPPC takes the ongoing mental health of all Australians seriously, particularly in light of the social distancing measures and restrictions put in place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” concluded the statement, acknowledging that $74million had been committed to mental health support and services as part of the Australian Government’s $1.1billion health funding boost to protect Australians against the impact of the pandemic.

Multiple Australian music festivals – including Splendour in the Grass and Big Pineapple – have postponed their events to later in 2020 as a result of the pandemic and social distancing restrictions.

Additional reporting by Anna Rose

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