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Long-weekend lockdown: Restrictions far from over


Anastasia Tsirtsakis


14/04/2020 3:54:03 PM

The Federal Health Minister called it Australia’s ‘most important’ weekend in the fight against coronavirus. How did we do?

Sydney Opera House
Hundreds of infraction notices were handed out despite the vast majority of Australians following social distancing rules. (Image: AAP)

Australians were told that their behaviour would be in the spotlight, with police out in force over the Easter long-weekend. And for the most part, the majority heeded the warning.
 
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt was full of praise for those who adhered to public health directives, commending the public for helping to save lives by staying home.
 
‘Millions and millions of Australians have done the right thing and helped protect lives and save lives, not just over the Easter weekend, but over recent weeks and that is why we are flattening the curve,’ Minister Hunt said.
 
With restrictions on interstate travel and the public encouraged to stay away from holiday houses in rural towns, traffic movements were just 13% of what is usually seen over the Easter weekend.
 
But the message wasn’t clear enough for some, leading to hundreds of fines being issued across the country.
 
Queensland were the worst offenders, with 496 infraction notices handed out.
 
In Victoria, Deputy Police Commissioner Shane Patton said 532 fines were issued over the long weekend, of which 183 were handed out on Good Friday, 92 on Saturday and 158 on Sunday. More than 1000 spot checks were conducted on homes, businesses and non-essential services.
 
Not all fines were coronavirus-related however. Despite no deaths being recorded on the roads, reckless behaviour was witnessed, with 162 fines issued for failing to wear a seatbelt, while 259 were caught driving under the influence of drugs and 124 others drunk driving.
 
In New South Wales, police charged five people and issued 111 fines for breaching physical-distancing guidelines.
 
While in Tasmania, from Saturday to Easter Sunday morning, 23 people were charged for failing to comply with social-distancing laws.
 
In the Northern Territory, authorities conducted more than 4100 compliance checks and issued 21 fines.
 
While the efforts to flatten the curve are reassuring, Australians have consistently been told by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to prepare for varying degrees of social-distancing to be in place for at least six months, and chief health officers maintain a vaccine is 12–18 months away.
 
But Queensland MP Andrew Laming, a medical specialist and former infectious disease researcher, argues that planning needs to commence for a subtle rolling back of restrictions in locations where it is deemed safe to do so.
 
‘The only way to understand how to deal with the next stage of COVID-19 is for public health experts to cautiously trial local relaxations,’ Dr Laming wrote in The Australian.
 
‘We will need to closely monitor regional relaxations, fully supported from the top level of political leadership and clearly explained in regular media addresses.’
 
However, Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy told ABC radio while he believes the current scale of measures needs to be reviewed, it is still too early to relax strict social distancing rules as public hospitals are yet to be fully prepared and there is an ongoing need for adequate personal protective equipment.
 
‘We need to look at all of the data, look at our preparedness, and the national cabinet will be making a lot of decisions about what, if anything, can be relaxed in the coming weeks,’ he said.
 
In Tasmania’s northwest, 60 new cases have resulted in the closure of two hospitals. About two-thirds of those affected are healthcare workers, and some 5000 people in total have been instructed to quarantine.
 
In a concerted effort to tackle community transmission, testing criteria has been expanded in Victoria to include anyone showing symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, shortness of breath, a cough or sore throat. They can be tested by their GP or at one of 40 screening clinics across the state.  
 
Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said making testing widely available will help authorities gauge the level of infection.
 
‘This will also help us to determine how we respond in terms of the restrictions going forward,’ she said.  
 
Similarly in Western Australia, anyone who is symptomatic can be tested. While in NSW, testing criteria has expanded to include anyone who lives in one of the virus hotspots and is showing symptoms. (Refer to testing criteria for each state, below.)

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Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said making testing widely available will help authorities gauge the level of infection. (Image: AAP)

WA health authorities indicate more random testing could likely be the next step in a bid to find non-symptomatic carriers after very little community spread was found in the state's results.
 
More than 6300 Australians have tested positive for coronavirus, of which more than half have now recovered and 61 have died. Only 33 new cases were recorded on Tuesday 14 April nationwide over a 24 hour period.
 
While the benefits of stringent social distancing measures are evident, health authorities continue to warn of the danger around growing complacent.
 
‘If we have 200 people walking around the community that could be 80,000 people in one month, so I ask the community for their understanding and co-operation,’ Minister Mikakos said.
 
The Federal Government has established an expert taskforce with more than 80 academics from Australia’s ‘Group of Eight’ universities, who will prepare advice on the recovery phase of the pandemic.
 
State and federal leaders are expected to meet this week to discuss restrictions around travel and gatherings.
 
Most state and territory testing criteria are based on guidelines established by the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA), but there are also some variations.

Australian COVID-19 testing criteria by state

Victoria:

  • Fever OR chills in the absence of an alternative diagnosis that explains the clinical presentation OR Acute respiratory infection that is characterised by cough, sore throat or shortness of breath
  • In addition, testing is recommended for people with new onset of other clinical symptoms consistent with COVID-19* AND who are close contacts of a confirmed case of COVID-19 or who have returned from overseas in the past 14 days (*headache, myalgia, runny or stuffy nose, anosmia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea)
  • Healthcare workers and emergency workers remain a high priority for testing
  • Patients can be tested by their GP or at one of 40 screening clinics
New South Wales:
  • Patients with symptoms who live in communities with local transmission
  • Patients who self-identify as Aboriginal and have fever or respiratory symptoms
  • Patients who have been referred by their GP or public health unit to a COVID-19 clinic for testing whose clinician, after taking a full history, has reason to suspect that the patient may have COVID-19
Queensland:
  • Anyone in Brisbane (Metro South hospital and health services and Metro North HHS regions), the Gold Coast (Gold Coast HHS region) and Cairns (Cairns and Hinterland HHS region) who present with fever (≥38°C) OR history of fever (eg night sweats, chills) OR acute respiratory infection (eg cough, shortness of breath, sore throat)
  • Workers with symptoms in a ‘vulnerable setting’, including healthcare, aged care, the military, education, and corrections
  • People with symptoms who have travelled from interstate or a declared COVID-19 hotspot
South Australia:
  • Anyone who has travelled interstate or overseas in the past 14 days
  • Healthcare workers with direct patient contact, or aged and residential care workers who have a fever or an acute respiratory infection
  • People who have been in Tanunda, Nuriootpa, Williamstown, Angaston and Lyndoch on or after 14 March, and have developed COVID-19 symptoms should immediately self-isolate and get tested after 39 cases were linked in the Barossa region
SA Health also recommends testing for Qantas staff who have been in the affected areas at Adelaide Airport after an outbreak of 34 cases. Public areas have not been affected, but anyone who has been to the airport and has developed symptoms is urged to self-isolate and seek testing.
 
Western Australia:
  • Anyone with a fever, recent history of fever or an acute respiratory infection
  • People working in healthcare, aged care and disability, and police officers
  • People in metropolitan areas can get tested at one of nine testing clinics; those in regional areas can get tested at public hospitals, health services or remote health clinics
Tasmania:
  • Anyone who displays coronavirus symptoms and has recently travelled interstate or overseas can apply to be tested through their GP or public health services
  • People who have spent time in Tasmania’s north-west and have developed a fever or respiratory symptoms
Northern Territory:
  • People who have returned from interstate or overseas in the past 14 days and develop respiratory illness with or without fever
  • People who have severe community-acquired pneumonia with no clear cause
  • Healthcare workers who directly work with patients, and frontline workers including police, emergency workers, educators, retail pharmacists and disability workers, who display respiratory illness or fever
Australian Capital Territory:
  • People who have recently travelled overseas, been on a cruise ship and have developed symptoms of COVID-19 within 14 days of returning to Australia
  • Anyone who meets the clinical criteria and has been in contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19
  • Healthcare or aged care workers with recent onset of respiratory symptoms or fever
  • People living in a high-risk setting such as aged care, the military or correctional facilities and have symptoms of COVID-19
  • Anyone who has travelled from an area where COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred, or an area within Australia with an elevated risk of community transmission and is displaying symptoms
With AAP.

Corrections: This article originally stated anyone who is symptomatic in Queensland and NSW can be tested. ​ 

The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
 
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