Bracing for surge, PM announces billions in health measures

Australia is bracing for a surge in coronavirus cases, with a $2.4 billion package of health measures anticipating the need for more fever clinics, greater testing capacity, extra drugs and fresh protective equipment.

Mar 11, 2020, updated Mar 11, 2020
Australia's Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy has been told to gather urgent medical advice on Kawasaki disease from Australia and overseas. (Photo: AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy has been told to gather urgent medical advice on Kawasaki disease from Australia and overseas. (Photo: AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy today fronted the media in Canberra to give further details and seek to reassure Australians that every precaution was being taken.

So far, there have been 112 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia, including three deaths, and authorities hope a localised outbreak in Sydney can be contained. The virus has yet to be spread within Queensland.

Having already agreed to share the cost of public hospital services, the Federal Government today outlined a series of measures that Morrison insisted would be demand-driven and scalable.

They include $100 million for a new bulk-billed Medicare rebate for telehealth consultations for patients in home isolation or quarantine, which will be available from Friday.

Government laboratories have done most COVID-19 tests to date but a rebate will also be extended to private operators, with new testing guidelines expected for health workers. Murphy said existing testing capacity had proved sufficient but contingency plans were needed.

The states have already set up fever clinics outside public hospitals and the package includes $207 million to add more clinics in a primary care setting. There will also be more health resources for call centres and a nationwide communications campaign.

More than $1 billion will go towards additional supplies of protective equipment for health workers, and to top-up the medicines stockpile, while there will also be additional infection control training, particularly in aged care.

While health authorities had privately discussed the potential for COVID-19 cases to be spreading through Australia by the end of April – a best-case scenario – Murphy rejected the suggestion the number of cases could peak next month.

He said sustained local transmission of COVID-19, if and when that occurred, could continue for anything from eight to 16 weeks and was “very unlikely” to peak in April.

“We are still in containment mode,” Murphy said, noting that Australia had managed to stay ahead of the curve.

InQueensland in your inbox. The best local news every workday at lunch time.
By signing up, you agree to our User Agreement andPrivacy Policy & Cookie Statement. This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

“How long we stay in that mode depends on the success of our public health interventions over the next few weeks.”

Australia will tonight extend travel bans to Italy. Such restrictions, and an estimated 20,000 tests undertaken locally, have helped protect Australia from the influx of cases seen in some other countries.

Murphy cautioned that some people were seeking tests unnecessarily, and only those displaying symptoms and who had returned from a country with an outbreak, or people who had come into contact with someone with the illness, should be tested.

“There is no point being tested at the moment if you have not travelled or if you’ve not been in contact (with someone with COVID-19), even if you have flu-like illnesses,” he said.

“We are not saying to people who get acute respiratory symptoms, a cold or a flu, to go and get tested for COVID-19.”

Morrison, and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, will announce an economic response to the crisis tomorrow, with the Prime Minister today reiterating “all of us have a role to play”.

A Council Of Australian Governments meeting is scheduled for Friday.

Local News Matters
Copyright © 2024 InQueensland.
All rights reserved.
Privacy Policy