Police spot checks headline efforts to curb coronavirus

Matt Woodley

19/03/2020 4:27:10 PM

With local Australian cases doubling in four days, newsGP looks at developments in each state and territory.

Gary Worboys
Efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus are expected to intensify. (Image: AAP)

At the time of publication on Thursday 19 March, Australia had more than 700 confirmed cases – more than double the 297 recorded on 15 March.
In an effort to stem the flow of new cases, the Federal Government has announced an imminent travel ban on all non-residents attempting to enter Australia. The ban will apply to anyone who is not a citizen, resident, or close family member of a citizen or resident.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Government decided to institute the ban because ‘the overwhelming proportion of cases in Australia have been imported’.

Recommendations to enforce social distancing are also expected to intensify, with Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly indicating restrictions may be placed on all cafes, bars, sports clubs and other non-essential venues that would see a limit of one person per four square metres.
The national cabinet, made up of all state and territory leaders and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, will decide whether to adopt and enforce the recommendations this week.
Instances of panic buying have also forced pharmacists to limit the supply of over-the-counter medicines, such as Ventolin and paracetamol, to one unit per person. Pharmacists will also only dispense one month’s supply of prescription medicines at a time, while some items, like children’s paracetamol, will be moved behind the counter.
Elsewhere, states and territories are taking their own measures to control the virus as it continues to spread across the country.
Australian Capital Territory
The ACT recently recorded its fourth confirmed case, although at the time of publication health authorities had not released any details other than the fact the person recently returned from overseas.
Earlier in week, a woman in her 70s who had recently returned from Indonesia became the territory’s third case, after two men in their 30s were also diagnosed with the virus.
ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said the woman was infectious when travelling back to Australia on 14 March and contact-tracing efforts have been enacted.
New South Wales
Australia’s most populated state has been the hardest hit, with more 300 cases now confirmed, including at least 60 that are believed to be locally transmitted. Another 70 remain under investigation, while a fifth person has died as a result of the disease.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant told reporters the initial precautionary approach of hospitalising all confirmed COVID-19 cases had been abandoned as cases rise.
‘It’s reassuring that many of our cases continue to be mild, with currently six patients in intensive care units [ICUs],’ Dr Chant said. ‘Many of our patients are being managed in the community and being managed at home, and we are only admitting patients now that require hospital care.
‘We are following up and we are working in a whole-of-government way to ensure that people are doing the right thing.’
NSW Health recently revealed 80,000 people may need intensive care simultaneously during the peak of the virus, sparking concerns the state’s health system could buckle.
There are only around 1000 ICU beds across the state, but a NSW Health spokesperson told newsGP that planning is ‘well underway’ to double that number, which will also be supplemented by other ‘critical care and close observation beds’ for patients who are significantly unwell.
However, the spokesperson did not indicate when this would occur, nor what other contingency plans are in place should those beds become filled.
Northern Territory
While still yet to record a confirmed case, six doctors from the Royal Darwin Hospital have called for ‘immediate action’ to minimise the impact of coronavirus on vulnerable residents.
In a letter addressed to the NT’s Chief Health Officer Hugh Heggie, the doctors list 13 items that require ‘immediate action’, including suspending meetings with interstate representatives except by teleconference, and preparing and training for a ‘30-bedded ICU’.
The letter also recommends temporarily shutting down the medical school, halting dental services and suspending all elective surgery except life- or limb-preserving elective surgery.
Officials are also working to establish a drive-thru coronavirus testing facility in Howard Springs, which will double as a quarantine facility for people who cannot home quarantine.
New laws have been enacted during an emergency sitting of Queensland Parliament, as the number of confirmed cases in the state has reached 144.
Senior hospital staff now have greater powers to force individuals into isolation, while large gatherings in pubs, clubs, restaurants and entertainment venues are likely to be curbed.
The new laws also include powers to compel supermarkets and pharmacies to remain open longer if required.
Meanwhile, retired doctors are being approached to help combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Australian Medical Association (AMA) Queensland President Dr Dilip Dhupelia told Seven News several retired doctors have already offered their services, and there are a number of different ways they could help with containment efforts.
‘Some will be asked to assist contact tracing of confirmed cases of COVID-19 [coronavirus], while others may be needed on the 24-hour 13 HEALTH hotline to relay and explain up-to-date medical advice as it is released,’ he said.
‘There are public health units across the state and a range of areas where support is required, depending on where the retired doctor lives.’
South Australia
SA police will target people they believe ‘pose a risk to general community safety’ as part of a crackdown on potential coronavirus carriers in self-isolation.
Officers are conducting spot checks on people who have recently returned from overseas in an effort to make sure they comply with the 14-day self-isolation period.
It has also been announced two new hospitals will be set up in Adelaide to treat coronavirus cases.
The dedicated facilities will be established at the recently decommissioned ECH College Grove and Wakefield hospitals.
Premier Steven Marshall said the move will provide an additional 188 beds to manage the anticipated increase in the number of people requiring hospitalisation.
Premier Marshall was recently forced to dispel fears of a state-wide lockdown, as the number of confirmed cases in SA reached 37.
Australia’s smallest state has effectively closed its borders to the rest of the country, with Premier Peter Gutwein declaring a state of emergency in response to the virus.
The state’s Police Commissioner Darren Hine is set to ‘take operational control’ from midnight on Friday, and only ‘essential travellers’ will be allowed into Tasmania without going into a 14-day quarantine.
‘Importantly, these new measures will carry penalties,’ Commissioner Gutwein said. ‘I want to make it very clear: we expect people to abide by the law.
‘There can be no excuse for not self-quarantining, for not abiding by the rules.’
Anyone found in breach of the new laws will face a fine of up to $16,800 or up to six months in prison.
At the time of publication, Tasmania had 10 confirmed cases, but no evidence of local transmission.
Old Victorian hospital wards will be recommissioned to help handle the extra pressure coronavirus is expected to put on the health system, as part of a $437 million funding boost from the State Government.
More than $80 million will be used to create 129 new hospital beds in Victoria over the next 12 weeks, while another 129 beds had already been announced at Casey Hospital in Melbourne’s south-east.
Victoria is expected to face an extra 45,000 emergency department presentations, 5000 more hospitals admissions, and a further 2000 ICU admissions when the coronavirus pandemic hits its peak.
Hospitals across the state will share in $115 million to help cope with the demand, while $107 million will be used to buy more equipment, including 4000 high-flow oxygen therapy units for people experiencing acute respiratory failure, 130 dialysis machines and 1200 patient monitors.
Premier Daniel Andrews said there are ‘big, big challenges’ in the global supply chain for some medical equipment, but the Victorian Government has already placed some orders.
Victoria had 150 confirmed cases at the time of publication, the second highest number behind NSW.
Western Australia
A fourth WA healthcare worker has tested positive, as the number of cases in the state jumped to 35.
It is unclear how the healthcare worker contracted the disease, as they have no history of overseas travel or known contact with an infected person.
The other affected healthcare workers include a specialist at St John of God Hospital, who recently returned from the US, and workers at Joondalup Health Campus and an Aegis aged care facility.
The State Government has urged people to reconsider non-essential interstate travel, while regulations are set to be introduced that will restrict access to remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, which are thought to be among the most vulnerable groups in Australia.
The RACGP has more information on coronavirus available on its website.
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Dr Waldemar Andrzej Bogacki   20/03/2020 6:50:05 AM

It is obvious that minimalistic approach in VIC DO NOT WORK. Corona spread is not slowing down. In last few days numbers show full speed of progress ( 32% daily) : 16/03 - 71 cases, 17/03 -92, 18/03-121, last 19/03 - 150. Looks like prof. Murphy is not right and European ( including UK)restriction should be implemented now before we have Italia situation in Australia.

Dr Michael Lucas Bailey   20/03/2020 7:39:14 AM

I’m a GP, not a virologist, and previously an engineer with an interest in complex systems. Mathematically it seems pretty simple. The virus has an exponential spread so case numbers will continue to double regularly. Unfortunately it also has a 14 day incubation period. That means that essentially any case that is detected in the next 14 days is somebody who already has the virus today and nothing we do now can change the next 2 weeks. Also any change in management or approach is unlikely to be apparent for the next 2 weeks. We should be expecting regular doubling of cases but the sooner we take more definitive action the more we can change what is happening 3 weeks from now.

Dr Emma Coldwell   20/03/2020 8:04:15 AM

"NSW Health recently revealed 80,000 people may need intensive care simultaneously during the peak of the virus, sparking concerns the state’s health system could buckle."

What a bizarre sentence. If 80,000 people need ICU simultaneously, there's no "could" involved. The buckling of the health system is unavoidable.

And "recently"? Concerns weren't sparked earlier that that? Concerns weren't sparked by, oh, I dunno, Italy?

Dr Amanda Maitland   20/03/2020 11:09:22 AM

We need a convalescent serology test specific for COVID-19/SARS CoV2, so that people who have had the virus asymptomatically or very mildly can be genuinely "cleared" and go back to work. They would still need to practise strict hand hygiene. This will help stabilise the economy and reduce panic. Is anyone working on such a test?

Dr John Richard Milner   20/03/2020 7:42:53 PM

Apparently we are not closing our schools because then health care workers would have to stay home. Couldn't schools be open but only for those who can't be cared for at home by a parent or other relative (not a grandparent)? Then there would be fewer kids on the buses and schools may have a chance at practising social distancing if only 30% of the class were there.