CANBERRA, Feb 27, 2020, 9News. Australian authorities are taking a “rings of containment” approach to limiting the spread of the virus, now formally known as COVID-19, by trying to contain any confirmed cases to individuals, families or affected units. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government has initiated its emergency response plan in preparation the outbreak will enter a pandemic phase, 9News reported.
“We’re effectively operating now on the basis that there is a pandemic,” Mr Morrison said.
“That is not precisely the case now but it is likely on the basis of the medical advice that was provided.
“I want to stress that these actions are being taken in an abundance of caution.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the plan builds what was implemented for similar events relating to pandemic influenza.
“We are prepared… all of the elements that are in that plan are very similar to our pandemic influenza plan. We learned from the pandemic 10 years ago when we had the swine flu epidemic,” Mr Hunt said.
“We looked at that plan and modified it on the basis of what we learnt.”
He said medical authorities know more about the coronavirus, how it spreads, how infectious it is, and how likely it is to cause severe illness.
“I would stress that for 80 per cent of people it’s a mild illness.”
Australian authorities will remain in containment mode as well as now hold formal engagement with the states across such areas as medical stockpiles and personal protective equipment.
“One of the things we’re most focused on is to make sure we have the personnel capacity if there is a surge within our hospitals and medical system,” Mr Hunt said.
“In the event of a pandemic, the goal is to slow its spread if it gets to Australia. But with the number of countries that are now affected, we have to be realistic about the likelihood of containment strategies into the weeks ahead.”
More than 3000 people have been tested for coronavirus in Australia. There have only been 15 cases confirmed in the general population, all of whom have now cleared the condition. Anyone with an unusual form of pneumonia is now being tested for the virus.
Every hospital has some process for isolating people if needed.
Both the federal and state governments have powers to force people to enter quarantine if they won’t do so voluntarily.
Australia is reviewing its travel advice as virus situations evolve in various countries. Advice levels for northern Italy, Iran, Japan and Korea have been increased.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has told Australian athletes preparing for this year’s Tokyo Olympics to “just keep training” as he hopes they have a fruitful Olympics ahead – but says they will be the first to know if there is any risk.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee will consider whether to relax the current ban on people entering Australia from China for university students. It would also only so if it’s “very confident” the virus is under control in Chinese provinces other than Hubei.
Authorities could cancel events with major crowds, such as AFL games, but only as a “last resort”, if the virus situation escalates.
Elderly Australians are also a focal point of containment plans with authorities briefing age care facilities for lockdown procedures should an outbreak occur domestically.
Concerns have also been raised regarding the upcoming flu season, which typically begins in April and could place additional pressure on the health system if combined with coronavirus.
Experts have estimated Australia would require an additional 650,000 beds in ICU in one year if the two viruses coincide meaning beds would need to be rationed to cope with added pressure.
Pandemic Assessment Centres where people can be assessed and treated could also be established while warehouses, convention centres, hotels and sports arenas could be used as alternative sites to hospitals.