Scott Morrison has urged Australians not to let shocking unemployment figures break their hearts, as he also cautioned against underestimating the task of rebuilding the economy.
The prime minister flagged Australia may have to live with the coronavirus for years, saying it is vital to work out how to keep the economy moving.
Australia has recorded just under 7000 cases of the virus, with nine in 10 people having recovered.
And with 943,000 tests done – including 34,000 over the past 24 hours – health authorities continue to be confident there are few undetected cases out in the community.
Health officials say there is no need for Australians who aren’t ill to wear facemasks in public, thanks to the low number of cases in the community.
But while the health figures are encouraging, the latest unemployment numbers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show nearly 600,000 more people out of work.
“These are families, these are friends, these are neighbours, these are workmates,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Thursday.
Another six million workers are now covered by the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme, including many who have been stood down but aren’t officially counted as unemployed.
Mr Morrison said it was important people support each other and seek hope in the prospect of a recovery.
States and territories have started moving into the first of a three-stage process of lifting restrictions.
It’s anticipated 850,000 people will be back at work by the time the third stage is reached in July although this includes people stood down on JobKeeper.
Mr Morrison said people should not underestimate the scale of the task to reopen the economy.
“The task we have now is to reopen those businesses, to get employees back into their jobs and to do so in a COVID-safe way so that it’s sustainable for many years potentially, if that is what is required,” he said.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth said if people see small businesses doing well at setting up physical distance arrangements, “tell them well done”.
“If you can observe there’s no hand sanitiser there or there’s something that they need, let them know that too and together we can make sure that we’re COVID-safe,” he added.
But he suggested it was too early for people to be booking cruise ship holidays for September, even if tour companies were advertising.
And people should think carefully about how well they were before taking advantage of relaxed restrictions to catch up with friends.
“If you are feeling at all unwell with a cough or a cold, just ring up and apologise, defer it to next weekend, it’s not worth it, and go get yourself a COVID-19 test.”
The national cabinet will meet on Friday to consider a mental health pandemic plan to boost support services, and health advice relating to public transport as people start heading back to workplaces.