Australia’s coronavirus containment efforts intensify

Matt Woodley

16/03/2020 3:16:33 PM

Growing case numbers and limited resources have led governments across the country to impose drastic measures.

Map of Australia
The Federal Government now requires all people entering the country to self-isolate for 14 days, while cruise ships have been banned from arriving at Australian ports for an initial 30 days.

With Australia’s stocks of coronavirus testing kits and personal protective equipment ‘rapidly deteriorating’, a series of emergency laws have been enacted in an effort to enforce social distancing a limit the spread of coronavirus in the community.
At the time of publication on Monday 16 March, there were 313 confirmed cases in Australia – an increase of 221 in the previous seven days – including more than 50 instances of transmission within the country.
The Federal Government now requires all people entering the country to self-isolate for 14 days, while cruise ships have been banned from arriving at Australian ports for an initial 30 days.
Non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people are effectively banned, and people are being told to practise social distancing measures and maintain good hand hygiene.
However, many are urging the Government to do more, with doctors pleading for a promised $30 million public information campaign to be fast-tracked after it was revealed the Department of Health only engaged a creative agency for the public health campaign on 3 March.
There are also reports an additional 2000 ventilators will be needed to treat an anticipated surge in patients and concerns that it will be weeks before some pop-up respiratory clinics are established.
Around $100 million has been set aside to fund Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) item numbers for telehealth coronavirus consultations, including for GPs forced to self-isolate but able to work from home. However, RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon has already said there is a need to ‘significantly expand’ availability.
‘The new MBS item appears to be narrow in scope and only apply to people with a confirmed case of COVID-19 [coronavirus] or those in isolation, along with a range of vulnerable groups such as older people,’ Dr Nespolon told The New Daily.
‘Ideally, it would apply to anyone with cold-or-flu-like symptoms who is concerned they might have COVID-19.
‘Given the virus is escalating, I urge the Federal Government to clarify this measure and significantly expand its scope.
‘Facilitating more telephone consultations makes sense rather than having sick people turn up in a crowded GP clinic waiting room, where they can spread the virus to others.’
Dr Nespolon said telephone consultations are ‘a technology that everyone has, so it can be rolled out immediately without delay’.
‘It’s straightforward, it’s accessible for all people in the community and it will help in combating COVID-19,’ he said.

The RACGP Board has also made the decision to postpone its 2020 Practice Owners National Conference due to concerns regarding the spread of coronavirus. The conference will be rescheduled for a date to be determined in 2021, according to the college.
In addition, the RACGP hackathons planned to commence in Sydney this coming weekend have also been postponed to a date to be determined later in 2020 or in 2021.
Other major events will be considered by the RACGP Board later this week.

Australian Capital Territory
The ACT Government has declared a public health emergency, which will allow the territory’s Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman greater powers, such as enforced self-isolation.
Restrictions on public gatherings and other parts of daily life are likely be in effect for some time, including a new ban on mass gatherings at schools such as assemblies, sports carnivals and excursions.
New South Wales
Two more people died in Australia’s worst-affected state over the weekend, including a 77-year-old woman who died on the same day she began developing symptoms.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has responded to by making an order under the Public Health Act 2010 to force the immediate cancellation of public events with more than 500 people.
Individuals who fail to comply with the ban face up to six months in prison or a fine of up to $11,000, while businesses are also liable for prosecution and would ‘face even harsher fines’, according to Minister Hazzard. Additional penalties can be imposed for each day the offence continues.
Meanwhile, schools have adopted social distancing measures, including cancelling assemblies, excursions, and travel, as well as some events and conferences.
All new jury trials in the NSW Supreme and District court will be suspended indefinitely, but jury trials that have already begun will continue.
Several large events across the state including the Sydney Royal Easter Show have been cancelled and RSL NSW representatives due to make a decision on upcoming Anzac Day marches and parades imminently.
Northern Territory
Remote communities in the NT’s top end have been closed to all non-essential travel in response to concerns about the potential impact of coronavirus.
All existing permits to Top End Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities for non-essential travel will be suspended and no new permits will be granted until further notice, according to the Northern Land Council (NLC).
The NLC said people who provide essential services to the community, including doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers and council workers, will not be affected by the ban.
Council CEO Marion Scrymgour told the ABC the ban has been enacted to protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may be vulnerable due to existing issues like chronic health conditions and overcrowded housing.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has said laws are in place to deal with people who fail to follow a direction to self-isolate, and include the ability to impose a heavy financial penalty.
‘[The Public Health Emergency Act] was passed in early February and there are penalties for not complying with the notification, and that is around $13,000,’ she said.
‘We have random police checks to make sure people are compliant with that notice.’
The warning came as Queensland had its largest single-day jump in coronavirus cases, with the 15 additional cases taking the state’s total to 61.
South Australia
A public health emergency has been declared in South Australia as the number of cases climbed to 20.
Premier Steven Marshall said public health officers have been empowered ‘to take all the necessary actions to keep the people of South Australia as safe as we possibly can’.
Premier Marshall said ‘these are uncharted waters for our nation’, but added that there is still ‘no evidence’ of community spread within the state.
‘Authorities in South Australia do have the ability to take further action if they think there are people who are ignoring the directives,’ he said.
‘We’ve got the ability under the Public Health Act already in place to not only direct people, but enforce that using SAPOL [SA Police].’
New jury trials in South Australia have been suspended pending medical advice about the effects of coronavirus, but existing jury trials will continue ‘at the discretion of the presiding judicial officer in consultation with jurors and parties to the matters’.
SA Health will provide free accommodation for backpackers required to self-isolate, as they would not be able to do so at hostels, while international arrivals at Adelaide Airport will be given face masks and should leave with a family member if possible.
Otherwise, taxi and Uber drivers will be given face masks when picking up people from the airport.
The South Australian Public Transport Authority has increased cleaning schedules across all public transport modes and is using disinfectant products recommended under national health guidelines.
Particular focus will be placed on cleaning hard surfaces such as handrails, validators and push buttons.
All people entering Tasmania have to give the State Government their contact details as part of measures to combat the spread of coronavirus.
The ‘arrival card’ will be rolled out at ports and airports from Tuesday 17 March, Premier Peter Gutwein has announced.
Filling out the card will be mandatory and allow the State Government to pass on health advice if needed.
Victoria has declared a state of emergency, with the anticipation that it will last for at least four weeks – and is likely to be extended.
The declaration mean the State Government can impose policies it would normally not be allowed, such as detaining people or restricting movements.
International arrivals must not leave their homes or accommodation for 14 days unless seeking medical attention, and people self-isolating must not allow others into their premises unless they also live there.
Individuals who break these rules face a fine of up to $20,000, while corporate bodies face a fine of up to $100,000.
Western Australia
WA has the ability to impose the most stringent controls, with people caught breaching a directive to self-isolate for two weeks liable to face up to a $50,000 fine.
The order will be enforced under the state’s Public Health Act and the Emergency Management Act and will involve penalties ranging from $5000–$50,000.
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
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Dr Alfredo Osmar Aiello   17/03/2020 7:50:40 AM

Australia has been extremely slow in placing life saving measures as closing schools, cinemas etc.
Also international travel needs to be stopped.
Am also surprised on the RACGP not stating this.
Wake up guys or are we only concerned about item numbers.

Dr Ian Mark Light   17/03/2020 8:20:00 AM

There has to be masks goggles gowns and face visors from the less urgent sector - Cosmetic Surgery Screening Endoscopy non urgent and soon these resources plus beds and staff will be have to be redeployed even before the respiratory illness of winter surge .

Dr Marlene Wessels   17/03/2020 11:55:19 AM

I think one aspect of being a good GP is over looked here .The 'bio' and 'social' part of our roll is extensively reported on ,but what about the 'psycho' part ?The fact is our patients are afraid to terrified. What are we doing to act CALM and SERENE and send out the message that it is OK to be afraid but it must not be all consuming and paralysing as is happening at the moment.This is going to last a few months and people need to do the 4 things they are advised to do ,but they must remain calm especially in front of their children.