Two clusters fuelling new infections

 

A small spike in confirmed coronavirus cases in Australia over the past 24 hours has put government officials and health authorities on high alert, with two clusters continuing to fuel infections.

Another 18 people nationwide tested positive for the disease on Tuesday, according to the latest data from the Department of Health.

That's compared to eight confirmed cases across the country one day prior.

While NSW recorded no new cases yesterday, the outbreak at the Newmarch House aged care home in western Sydney continues to have a devastating impact on its elderly residents.

And in Victoria, contacts from an outbreak at Melbourne abattoir Cedar Meats continue to be diagnosed with coronavirus.

RELATED: Follow the latest coronavirus updates

Australia has recorded 6967 cases of COVID-19, with 3053 in New South Wales, 1509 in Victoria, 1051 in Queensland, 439 in South Australia, 553 in Western Australia, 225 in Tasmania, 107 in the Australian Capital Territory and 30 in the Northern Territory.

Australia's death toll is at 97.


Chief medical officer addresses border closures

Chief medical officer Dr Brendan Murphy is being questioned at today's COVID Committee, which is looking at the government's response to coronavirus.

Dr Murphy was asked if there was a chance Australia's states and territories would relax border measures soon.

"The border measures will be in for the foreseeable future … that is one of our single most important measures," he said.

Dr Murphy said Australia's coronavirus cases were sitting at around 20 a day and if the numbers stayed around that, there could be potential relaxation of border measures soon.

"Keeping border measures will give the states some confidence…but if we don't get significant community transmissions and we're well prepared to respond…I think the states and territories are very closely looking at the first steps of relaxation," he said.

"If we're in the same place in a month I'm confident they will start to relax restrictions."

Data released from the ABS yesterday showed the staggering percentage drop in visitor numbers to each state and territory from March 2019 to March 2020.


Wuhan to test 11 million as clusters show up again

Wuhan will test its entire population of 11 million people after a number of coronavirus clusters began to show up again.

The original epicentre of coronavirus was in the Chinese city of Wuhan with the first cases detected in December before spreading across the globe.

Chinese state media has reported health authorities plan to test the entire city by the end of next week.

Wuhan lifted its lockdown a month ago however the city has since reported its first cluster of coronavirus infections.

The news comes as a number of countries, including the United States, reported shortages of testing kits.

China's health authority says the reappearance of local clusters of coronavirus cases in recent days suggests counter-epidemic measures cannot be relaxed yet.

While prevention and control efforts have normalised, that does not mean measures can be eased, Mi Feng, spokesman at the National Health Commission, said yesterday at a media briefing.


NSW government ran a cruise ship 'pandemic practice run' a year ago

Given the ongoing fallout from the Ruby Princess debacle, you might assume that the NSW government never saw it coming.

But you would be wrong because it turns out NSW Health and the Commonwealth ran a big 'pandemic practice run' with a cruise ship as the scenario exactly a year ago.

Believe it or not, it was called 'Exercise EmergenSea Detour' and it involved NSW Health, Tasmanian Health, the Victorian Department of Health and the Commonwealth Health Department.

What was the broad scenario?

Turns out it was "an outbreak of pandemic influenza on a cruise ship coming into Sydney."

Sounds relevant to the current pandemic.

A second scenario tested was "an outbreak of an unknown but clinically severe disease on a cruise ship in Hobart."

A question on notice in the Senate lodged by Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick has revealed five different state and federal agencies were involved in the practice run.

We would love to know what lessons were learned and whether they were applied to the Ruby Princess but to date the Health Department has not responded to requests for the full report.

Australia's coronavirus death toll tragically hit 98 today after another former Ruby Princess passenger today.

The 81-year-old woman is the 22nd death linked to the cruise ship.

The Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess debacle continues.

Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick told news.com.au that if the report exists it should be released.

- Samantha Maiden


Australia's COVID response under the microscope today


Prime Minister Scott Morrison's top adviser and a host of senior bureaucrats are set to be quizzed over their handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens will appear at the Senate inquiry into the government's coronavirus response within the hour.

He'll be joined by Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy and acting health department boss Caroline Edwards as well as the chief of the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, Peter Harris.


Deputy chief medical officer for mental health appointed

A deputy chief medical officer for mental health, tasked with helping Australians deal with the psychological impacts of the coronavirus crisis, has been permanently appointed by the government.

Associate Professor Ruth Vine, the former chief psychiatrist for Victoria, will sit alongside chief medical officer Dr Brendan Murphy.

"She's somebody who can listen to the concerns of the community and continue to give good advice and good ideas to the government," Health Minister Greg Hunt told ABC News Breakfast this morning.

Dr Murphy has repeatedly suggested mental health be treated as a priority as Australia emerges out of the coronavirus pandemic.

Death toll hits 98 as another Ruby Princess passenger dies

Australia's coronavirus death toll has hit 98 after another former Ruby Princess passenger tragically died.

NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said the 81-year-old woman had been on the cruise ship in March.

The ship disembarked in Sydney on March 19 and has been responsible for hundreds of coronavirus infections across Australia and 22 deaths.

The Special Commission of Inquiry into the Ruby Princess debacle continues this week with the final report expected to be handed up in mid-August.

NSW has 'highest rate of testing in the world'

A number of Australia's states and territories claim to have the highest testing rate in the world.

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews yesterday praised his state for its high testing rate and South and Western Australia have done similar.

And this morning, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian again added her state to the top of the list.

NSW has set itself a goal of 8000 tests a day, which it hit yesterday with 8100 people tested.

"I was very pleased to have brought to my attention a number of international reports that says NSW has the highest rate of testing in the world," Ms Berejiklian said.

"It is something we are incredibly proud of, something we need to maintain.

"I always say to our experts and my team here in NSW, there is no way we can't lead the world in the way we deal with the pandemic moving forward, and give good advice to our citizens to keep us safe."


Schools slowly getting back to normal

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state's high rate of testing and low virus numbers meant school would most likely be back to normal before the end of May.

"We know given how good the return of schools is to date, it is only day three but the feedback is very positive and we appreciate after next week there is a strong chance the majority of students will be back to face-to-face full-time learning but the Education Minister and I will update everybody next week," she said.


NSW records six new cases

NSW has recorded six new coronavirus cases from 8,100 tests.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian thanked the state for coming forward to get tested and keeping NSW's goal of 8,000 tests a day.

Ms Berejiklian said of the six new cases three had come from a known source and three "which could be from community-to-community transmission".

"This again states how vigilant all of us need to be," she said.

"Especially when on Friday restrictions are eased and it is important for us to all take precautions because there will be many more people out and about for recreation as opposed to other reasons.

"That is a big shift in the way we are managing the pandemic and a big shift in the way people can have extra freedom.

"Whilst I welcome that, and I am grateful to do that, those high rates of testing will make sure we can protect the community and focus those parts of the community where we want to open up business and get those jobs going."

Feared rise of suicides in coming weeks and months

Health Minister Greg Hunt will unveil further support for mental health services today as experts warn the coronavirus lockdown coupled with the economic downturn will lead to increased suicide this year.

Speaking to ABC News Breakfast this morning, Mr Hunt said there had been significant modelling from the University of Sydney that showed the worrying mental health trend.

"We take this very seriously. That's why we're trying to get ahead of the curve with mental health in just the same way we have done with the virus," Mr Hunt said.

"We are certainly not out of the woods with the virus … but equally with mental health."

Mr Hunt said the government was providing further funding to counselling services BeyondBlue and Head Space and expanding telehealth.

"Telehealth plays an extremely important role when people are in isolation or they are lonely," he said.

"One of the things to be aware of, whilst we're practising social distancing, we should engage in social contact over the phone, in whatever way we can, to tell people that we're there and we understand.

"They may be isolated but they're not alone. And these are things that all of us can do. But obviously, we have a hugely important role as a government and telehealth provides the medical support and each of us can provide the personal support."

Victorians wake to relaxed restrictions

Victorians can now invite five friends or family members over, attend mass or tee off at their favourite golf course, as the state officially relaxes its coronavirus restrictions.

As of 11.59pm last night, Victorians can now invite five friends or family members over to their home, but Premier Daniel Andrews has warned it is "not an invitation to host a dinner party every night of the week".

"It's not about having a rotating roster of acquaintances and associates, or your third-best friend from primary school over for a visit," he said earlier in the week.

 

  • Five friends or family allowed to visit your home
  • Victorians are allowed to visit beaches and some national parks however overnight stays are still banned
  • Up to 10 people can gather outdoors and partake in recreational activities such as golf, fishing and hiking
  • Victorians can attend mass and group support services such as Alcoholics Anonymous, so long as social-distancing rules are observed
  • Ten guests are also allowed to attend weddings
  • Funerals may have 20 mourners indoors or 30 outdoors

The changes will be in place until the end of May when Victoria's state of emergency ends.

Victoria's school students will also start returning to school from May 26 with all students resuming face-to-face learning by June 9.

Mr Andrews confirmed students in prep, grades 1 and 2, years 11 and 12, and at special schools will be allowed back in the classroom on May 26.

Students in years 3 to 10 will join their schoolmates from June 9.

Victoria is the last state to relax the restrictions on schools, as coronavirus cases continue to rise.

There were 17 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, including eight connected to the Cedar Meats cluster.

Six workers and two close contacts were confirmed to have the potentially deadly virus, taking the abattoir cluster total to 85.

There have been 1509 coronavirus cases in Victoria, but only around 120 are active.


Josh Frydenberg tests negative for coronavirus

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has tested negative for coronavirus after suffering from a lengthy coughing fit in parliament yesterday.

Mr Frydenberg was giving an update on Australia's economic outlook yesterday when he began to choke and splutter, unable to speak for several minutes and needing to take a number of sips of water.

In a statement last night, Mr Frydenberg said the Deputy Chief Medical Officer has advised him to have a test for COVID-19, for symptoms he described as a "dry mouth and cough".

"Following the receipt of his advice I immediately left Parliament House to be tested," Mr Frydenberg said.

The treasurer spent his night in self-isolation awaiting the results.


Antibody tests bought by Australia 'not accurate enough'

Some 1.5 million COVID-19 antibody tests bought by the federal government aren't accurate enough to be used in Australia, a report has found.

The antibody tests were supposed to be distributed soon after they arrived in March, but a report commissioned by Health Minister Greg Hunt said they were not ready for widespread deployment, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Australian National University Professor Carola Vinuesa, one of the report's co- authors, says the tests are not useful.

"At the moment, the quality does not seem to be good enough for these tests to be deployed in large scale," she said.

"The sensitivity is not very good. They are not useful in being able to say 'you were infected'."

Australia has recorded 6966 coronavirus cases, with 6229 recovered and 97 deaths, according to data released last night.

Virus prompts changes to state laws

The NSW government has introduced legislation to change about 40 state laws in a move to tackle the virus and its economic impacts.

The NSW Legislative Council sat past midnight and into Wednesday to debate the proposals, and made a number of tweaks.

Politicians are required to socially distance in the scaled-back NSW parliament, with just 23 MPs allowed in each of the two houses at any one time.

The upper house will resume later on Wednesday morning, with their tweaks to return to the lower house for debate later.

Payroll changes

The amendments would allow payroll tax exemptions for JobKeeper payments to stood-down workers, and change statutory leave laws to provide alternatives to workers standing down.

The opposition's amendment ensures that the annual leave of workers stood down without pay continues to accrue.

Mandatory checks and reporting

People that have or have been exposed to the virus would have to undergo testing or medical examination and security officers would be able to check the temperatures of people entering courts.

The registrar of births, deaths and marriages would also have to notify the health secretary of all deaths, to help identity virus clusters.

Financial support for landlords

Labor's upper house leader Adam Searle successfully moved another amendment that would see landlords suffering financial hardship receive up to $2500 per tenancy, which they would be required to pass on to tenants in rent reductions.

Landlords would be eligible if they can prove a tenant has lost 25 per cent of their income, has less than $5000 in savings and that 30 per cent of their income goes to rent.

Tenant protection

Amendments put forward by the Greens are designed to protect tenants who are unable to pay council rates and charges, and stop the state from limiting council income.

- AAP

Spike in coronavirus cases

A small spike in confirmed coronavirus cases in Australia over the past 24 hours has put government officials and health authorities on high alert.

Another 18 people nationwide tested positive for the disease on Tuesday, according to the latest data from the Department of Health.

That's compared to eight confirmed cases across the country one day prior.

Over the weekend, 15 and then 14 new cases were reported on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

The first COVID-19 were identified in late January in Australia. The number of new cases rapidly increased through March. Since April there has been a reduction in daily reported cases, according to the Department of Health.

 

Originally published as Two clusters fuelling new infections