Shopping centres would remain open although you should stay at home “unless shopping for basics”.
“People can buy a new shirt at a shopping centre? … surely should be in lockdown now,” Warne tweeted.
Warne was not alone in being confused.
“There is mixed messaging, some activities you can do and some you can’t,” said Australian National University marketing lecturer Andrew Hughes.
“Why have these things being excluded anyway, particularly the hairdressing? It’s leading to a lot of chaos and confusion.”
Dr Hughes said defining all jobs as essential undermined the message that people should be working from home wherever possible.
“This crazy messaging doesn’t make any sense – it is contradictory to what other people are saying. It’s not the way you should be messaging in a crisis.”
Communications specialist Michelle Henderson said very specific language needed to be used when educating the public on how they need to behave, pointing to examples such as “stay at home, get groceries once a week”.
“Not everyone will understand terminology such as ‘practise social distancing’,” Ms Henderson said.
On Wednesday, the government issued text messages to people’s mobile phones as part of its public information campaign on COVID-19.
The message said: “To stop the spread, stay 1.5 metres from others, follow rules on social gatherings, wash hands, stay home if sick.”
However, Mr Morrison was forced to defend this latest communications strategy against claims it was too soft, noting while he preferred for everyone to “stay home”, the most important message was for sick people to stop going out.
The states and territories have also taken contradictory positions on shutting down schools.
Victoria and ACT have shut schools a week ahead of the holidays, while in NSW they remain open, although parents are encouraged to keep their children home.
However, Mr Morrison has stressed that it is important to keep schools open.
“It’s going to be a tough year in 2020 and one of the things I don’t want to have yielded up is a year of a child’s education, which is so important,” he said.
“We need to work so hard together to try and ensure that those kids get that education and that is not lost to this virus.”
Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone said strong consistent messages were needed from all levels of government.
“Governments have confused recent social isolation messaging to the public, and different positions taken by different governments have created public anxiety,” Dr Bartone said.
Dr Bartone said the AMA would support decisions of governments to enforce further closure of non-essential services, suspension of schools and non-essential workplaces and increased home isolation to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Media strategist Chris Rann said he believed the poor quality of communication at the national level had set back the ability to educate the population on COVID-19 by a week or more.
“This is a life or death situation where communication is critical, yet a lot of the Prime Minister’s messaging is missing the target, turning people off and slowing things down,” he said.
“I’d hate to be in his position, but we have had enough of the convoluted waffle – with everyone trying to decipher what we are actually required to do.”
Mr Rann pointed to New Zealand, where Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a four-week shutdown from Wednesday.
“Yet again, we can look enviously across the ditch where the Ardern government has been clear and unequivocal in its public pronouncements on the crisis,” he said.
Jewel Topsfield is Melbourne Editor of The Age.