With 2000 Cases Australia's is Mulling Over Introducing 'Draconian' Measures to Stop Virus

Published March 24th, 2020 - 07:59 GMT
A health worker talks to visitors at a Covid-19 testing centre in Sydney on March 23, 2020. With the imminent closure of pubs, restaurants, cafes and entertainment venues in Sydney, large queues formed outside Australian unemployment benefit offices as online services crashed as the prime minister warned the coronavirus pandemic would cause an economic crisis akin to the Great Depression. PETER PARKS / AFP
A health worker talks to visitors at a Covid-19 testing centre in Sydney on March 23, 2020. With the imminent closure of pubs, restaurants, cafes and entertainment venues in Sydney, large queues formed outside Australian unemployment benefit offices as online services crashed as the prime minister warned the coronavirus pandemic would cause an economic crisis akin to the Great Depression. PETER PARKS / AFP

Coronavirus cases in Australia have hit 2,000 after another surge in people falling ill.

As the number of cases continues to spiral, the government is considering bringing in 'draconian' measures to stop its spread.

Scott Morrison is meeting his 'war cabinet' tonight and could announce 'stage two' measures, however he has so far ruled out a full lockdown like the one announced in the UK by Boris Johnson.

Health Minister Greg Hunt deferred questions about what stage two may look like and when it would come in, but said discussions would take place tonight.

'The general direction obviously is about people spending more time at home [and] obviously keeping distance,' he said.

'We are developing a staged approach. We recognise and appreciation what has happened in other parts of the world and indeed all of us are learning from each other.

'But obviously this notion of greater isolation, more time at home, less time out in groups, [is] what we are encouraging.'

After Mr Morrison and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee met today, the issue would be discussed by the National Cabinet tonight.

Mr Hunt stressed that stage 2 was 'not the last stage' and a graduated series of steps to a full lockdown - if required - was being ironed out.

'We have always indicated as the Prime Minister said and the national cabinet said, this was stage one,' he said.

Daily Mail Australia has been told the government will only push ahead with even more draconian 'stage two' restrictions if coronavirus transmissions in the community continue to escalate or Australians fail to 'socially distance'. 

Stage two would almost certainly see the forced closure of 'non-essential' businesses and other restrictions, although the Federal government is keeping mum on just what exactly those will be.

Measures would likely include closures of more non-essential businesses, and lower limits for group gatherings - currently at 100 indoor and 500 outdoor.

Some of or all of New Zealand's level 3 restrictions could be imposed, such as closing libraries, museums, food courts, and, pools.

Face-to-face GP consultations are also banned, but Mr Hunt implied those would still be necessary for many cases.


However, in his speech he announced a massive rollout of telehealth that every Australian would be able to access and encouraged to use. 

Mr Hunt also announced that Australia was more than doubling vital health resources like masks, ventilators, and test kits.

Ventilator capacity is at 2,000 but will soon be doubled to 4,000 by better utilising current stock - and will be boosted to 9,000 within weeks.

'Today work is being done, led by the Chief Scientist Alan Finkel in conjunction with others, which could add an additional 5,000 invasive and non-invasive respiratory and ventilator units to the Australian capacity,' Mr Hunt said.

Millions of masks will also arrive in Australia soon to keep health workers safe and not transmitting coronavirus to patients or their families.

Mr Hunt said 30 million would arrive within two weeks and another 24 million by the end of April. 

A huge increase in testing for coronavirus is also on the horizon after deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly, admitting the testing guidelines would soon change.

Only those people who had arrived from overseas, or been in contact with someone who had a confirmed case, had qualified to get one of the limited amounts of tests.

Mr Hunt said 97,000 new kits arrived last week and another 100,000 were on the way, 63,000 of which were the highest-grade PCR tests.

'They will allow us to assist with greater testing of health workers themselves to give them confidence, and, where appropriate, patients,' he said.

Mr Hunt had also ordered 1.5 million 'point-of-care tests' which can give an accurate result in as little as 15 minutes and be used by a GP.

'As we receive these newly approved - only approved over the weekend and in some cases in the last four hours - what are called point-of-care tests or finger-prick tests, they will be deployed, which will then allow for greater testing of patients within the general practice setting,' he said.

About 149,000 people in Australia have been tested - 558 tests per 100,000 people - about the same as South Korea and far higher than Britain's is 117, and the U.S. 22.

However, questions have been raised about whether the right people are being tested since the borders were closed to non-residents on Friday night.

The Health Department said criteria would be changed to better reflect the current situation, but did not specify what the new guidelines would be.

'As we learn more about the virus, we have continued to review the testing criteria,' it said on Monday night.

'In light of our stronger travel restrictions, the focus logically moves to the community with COVID-19 symptoms, on top of returned travellers and close contacts of cases.' 

The announcement followed comments on Q&A by deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly, admitting the testing guidelines would soon change.

'We'll be removing the traveller component, but we're working on that at the moment,' he said, and promised an announcement this week.

This article has been adapted from its original source.


© Associated Newspapers Ltd.

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