Human biosecurity emergency declared due to coronavirus

Matt Woodley

18/03/2020 4:44:52 PM

Increased restrictions on gatherings, international travel and access to aged care facilities are now in place, while efforts to source testing kits and medical equipment continue to ramp up.

Man wearing mask in front of coronavirus PSA.
More restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of coronavirus have been instituted.

Nearly 100,000 coronavirus testing kits will arrive in Australia this week, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has said, in an effort to prop up diminishing stock levels.
Minister Hunt also confirmed the Government is investigating the expanded use of alternative tests recently developed in Australia in order to supplement those manufactured overseas.
‘Our best scientists and medical experts are working around the clock to secure the supplies we need to test for and tackle the coronavirus epidemic,’ he said.
‘The aim is to have more tests and more types so we can avoid any disruption in the large-scale testing regime we have in place in Australia.’
The Doherty Institute in Melbourne has reportedly created an in-house testing method made from different components to the international commercial testing kits, while it has also made progress on efforts to conduct mass testing.
Australia has conducted around 81,000 tests, Minister Hunt told Today, equivalent to around 3240 tests per million of population – and a higher rate than many other countries.
However, there are ongoing concerns regarding access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies, leading the Government to call in the military to help ramp up domestic production of diminishing supplies.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said around a dozen Australian Defence Force personnel have been drafted in to help increase capacity and Med-Con – a medical supplies manufacturer near Shepparton in regional Victoria.
‘The team, which is comprised of highly qualified engineering maintenance specialists from the Army Logistic Training Centre and the Joint Logistics Unit – Victoria, are supporting the request,’ Minister Reynolds said.
‘These skilled soldiers are with the company’s existing staff on production, maintenance and warehousing tasks.
‘The Defence support will fill a short-term gap while Med-Con recruits and trains supplementary staff.’
Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews also confirmed work is underway to significantly increase Med-Con’s manufacturing capability to the anticipated increase in demand.
‘From helping to access new equipment to providing staff, we are doing what we can to enable companies like Med-Con to ramp up production and boost our domestic capacity,’ she said.
‘There’s a lot of fear in the community at the moment, but Australians should know that work is happening to help us best respond to this unfolding crisis.
‘This is important work, but it’s also essential we get it right – this equipment needs to be produced to the highest standards.’
Meanwhile, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy has argued against any potential short-term lockdown of society, such as those applied in parts of Europe and the US, insisting it would not achieve anything.
‘We know that there is community transmission. It is low-level at the moment, and we know that the way to control community transmission is social distancing,’ he said.
‘To be clear – a short-term, two-to-four-week shutdown of society is not recommended by any of our experts ... we have to be in this for the long haul.
‘It could be six months or more that we have to practice these new ways of interacting. So therefore, our measures have to be sustainable.
‘There is no way that we can lock down society and … then in a month’s time, undo that, because the virus will just flare up again.’
Australian cases have increased dramatically in the past three weeks and had reached 559 at the time of publication on 18 March. The past 24 hours saw the confirmation of more than 100 additional infections – the largest daily increase in Australia since the pandemic began to spread.
Part of the new social distancing measures include a ban on non-essential indoor gatherings of more than 100 people, and states and territories are also investigating further restrictions on a more local level.
A ban on outdoor gatherings of more than 500 people remains in place, while an unprecedented ban on international travel now applies to all Australians ‘regardless of your destination, age or health’.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) has also recommended ‘enhanced arrangements’ to protect older Australians in residential aged care facilities (RACFs), including entry restrictions.
Under the new recommendations: 

  • unwell visitors or people returning from overseas will be barred from entering
  • only short visits will be allowed, with a maximum of two people once a day
  • visits should be conducted in the resident’s room, outdoors, or in a specific area designated by the aged care facility, rather than communal areas
  • no visiting school groups of any size will be allowed
  • after 1 May, a valid influenza vaccination will be required in order to enter RACFs
  • children aged 16 years or less are to be permitted only by exception, as they are generally unable to comply with hygiene measures. Exemptions can be assessed on a case-by-case basis; for example, where the resident is in a palliative care scenario. 
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
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SD   19/03/2020 8:02:22 AM

If it is presumed to continue for few more months, then we will need lot more human resources in form of doctors and nurses. Virus is the same in Australia as in Italy and Usa and we are only few weeks behind which gives us some time now. Bring in more doctors and nurses somehow, expedite the trainees in programs, waive off exams etc. We will need lot more Intensivists, ED physicians and GP’s in coming time it this lasts for 6 months.

Dr Ian Mark Light   19/03/2020 8:47:29 AM

The challange will be heavy in the Southern Australian winter when the Upper and Lower respiratory infections hit .
Then a suggestion is to allot 1 in 3 GP clinics for treating the URTI’s those with the extra rooms hopefully well ventilated and the full PPE mask gloves googles head visors and gowns —- at least for new patients .
Home visiting with PPE of two health workers from a clinic why two - to help with collection of specimens and also the “buddy “ system to ensure PPE is put on and taken off stringently .
Head Visors are available from the building industry and if thousands can be sourced from Australia’s building construction and mining stock piles it will help .
The head visors can be washed with diluted bleach and reused .
Employment of more
Workers for health care after basic training -a first aid course is now three hours and can include personnel protection .

A.Prof Christopher David Hogan   19/03/2020 9:37:54 AM

I await the update of RACGP communications with interest as it will allow us to formally decide on what can be done to protect us & our communities.
There is too much Fake News