HomeCoronavirus update: Federal Government partners with private hospitals, United States passes 3,000 deaths, Italy extends lockdown, Tokyo Olympics rescheduledBusinessCoronavirus update: Federal Government partners with private hospitals, United States passes 3,000 deaths, Italy extends lockdown, Tokyo Olympics rescheduled

Coronavirus update: Federal Government partners with private hospitals, United States passes 3,000 deaths, Italy extends lockdown, Tokyo Olympics rescheduled


March 31, 2020 18:38:31

The Federal Government has partnered with private hospitals for an “unprecedented” joint response to the pandemic, the US has passed the 3,000 deaths mark, and Italy has extended its lockdown until at least Easter.

This story is being updated regularly. You can also stay informed with the latest episode of the Coronacast podcast.

Tuesday’s key stories

New York Governor pleads for help from healthcare workers

In New York, the US state hit hardest by coronavirus, the Empire State Building has been lit up like a siren in support of emergency workers who are on the front line in the battle against the virus.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pleaded with other states to send healthcare workers to help existing staff.

“I am asking healthcare professionals across the country if you don’t have a healthcare crisis in your community please come help us in New York — now,” he said.

New York accounts for almost half of all deaths in the US, with more than 1,200 fatalities.

US passes 3,000 deaths, but Trump says nationwide stay-at-home order ‘pretty unlikely’

US President Donald Trump says it is “pretty unlikely” that he will need to issue a nationwide stay-at-home order as the coronavirus pandemic continues to hit America.

According a database set up by Johns Hopkins University, the US today topped 3,000 deaths, making it the fifth country to pass that mark after China, Italy, Spain and France. It already had the highest number of cases in the world at 163,429.

Mr Trump said America would be doing well if it can “hold” the number of deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic “down to 100,000”.

He defended his decision to extend social-distancing guidelines until the end of April, after last week saying he wanted the economy back up and running by Easter.

Challenging times are ahead for the next 30 days,” he said.

The guidelines recommend against group gatherings larger than 10, urge those most at risk to stay home, and urge people to work from home when possible and avoid restaurants, bars, non-essential travel and shopping trips.

Despite the lack of a nationwide stay-at-home order, a majority of Americans remain under state or local government orders to stay at home to slow the spread of the virus.

Federal Government partners with private hospitals for ‘unprecedented’ joint response to pandemic

The Federal Government has struck a deal with the nation’s 657 private hospitals as well as the states, expanding the number of hospital beds available to the public system by 34,000 to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said one-third of Australia’s intensive care units are within the private hospital system, and these would also be made available.

He said he expected the cost of the deal would be “an additional $1.3 billion”.

Michael Roff, the CEO of the Australian Private Hospitals Association, said the deal meant 57,000 nurses and midwives in the private system would be able to be paid despite the reduction in elective surgeries as a result of the crisis.

“We’ve heard the word ‘unprecedented’ a lot this year, but this is absolutely unprecedented in terms of the integration of the capacity of the private hospital system … into one health system to deal with this pandemic,” he said.

Nick Coatsworth, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, said despite the announcement, now was not the time to “take the foot off the pedal”.

“The restrictions that the Minister and the Prime Minister have introduced on gatherings are absolutely essential to prevent the virus from making its only move, which is from one person to another,” he said.

Coronavirus cluster investigated among baggage handlers

SA Health says it is investigating a cluster of coronavirus cases among Qantas baggage handlers at the Adelaide Airport.

Six baggage handlers have tested positive to COVID-19.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said about 100 other people work in the immediate area of the airport, and a “significant number” would be required to self-quarantine.

She recommended people who have travelled through Adelaide Airport in the past 24 hours give their bags a wipe-over.

A further 32 cases of coronavirus have been reported in SA, taking the state’s total to 337.

Melbourne bar fined almost $10,000 as enforcement ramps up

Victoria Police have issued their first fine to a business after staff refused to comply with a directive that non-essential businesses should close.

China Bar in Fitzroy was fined $9,913 yesterday.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton said the business had six staff working on Saturday serving customers who were drinking and eating on the premises.

He said when questioned on Saturday night, the staff “weren’t cooperative, they refused to say how long they had been open and they refused to state why they were open”.

“It’s the first time we’ve issued an infringement but it won’t be the last. I can assure you,” he said.

“We’ve been fairly lenient, we’ve issued a lot of warnings but I think now the time for that has passed.

“Unless you’ve been living under a rock or unless you’re an idiot, you’re quite clear that the restrictions are there … so we are going to be enforcing them from today.”

Western Australia announces new financial relief package

The WA Government has announced a suite of measures to help households and small to medium-sized businesses who are struggling to pay their bills.

The $600 Energy Assistance Payment — a rebate given to concession card holders — will be made available for people who have lost their job as a result of the pandemic.

There will also be no interest or late payment fees for people who can’t pay government charges on time — including transfer duty, landholder duty, vehicle license duty or land tax.

Premier Mark McGowan said: “We’ve also taken the step to ensure no household who is unable to pay their water or power bill because of COVID-19 will have their power or water disconnected.”

There have been just nine new cases of coronavirus recorded in Western Australia over the past 24 hours, bringing the state’s total to 364.

WA Health Minister Roger Cook labelled the new numbers “incredibly encouraging”, but said it was no time for the state to let its guard down.

“To have single digits at any point in time in terms of the corona pandemic is amazing. To have them at this point in the cycle … is particularly encouraging,” he said.

“But we’re not out of the woods. We are sailing into this storm, not out of it.”

Urgent need for blood donations

Blood is not like toilet paper.

Now there’s a sentence adjunct professor David Irving probably never thought he’d write.

But the director of research and development at Australian Red Cross Lifeblood said when it comes to blood, “you can’t just buy a lot of it and save it for later”.

They need an additional 7,000 donors to make appointments before Easter Monday to prevent a shortage.

Blood and plasma donation is vital, and travel and venue restrictions don’t prevent people from giving blood,” he said.

If you’re between 18 and 70, weigh over 50kg, are healthy and well, haven’t been overseas in the past 28 days, or been in contact with a person with COVID-19, you may be eligible to donate.

Fear for the next coronavirus hotspots

Health experts and aid groups fear some of the world’s most vulnerable countries could become new hotspots for COVID-19.

Analysis from aid organisation CARE listed 15 “very high risk countries” — Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda, the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger and Haiti.

Across the Pacific, countries have been locking down or declaring national emergencies in response to COVID-19 — some even before recording a case of coronavirus.

The tiny US territory of Guam has recorded almost half of all COVID-19 infections in the Pacific Islands region, and the White House has declared it a major disaster site.

Guam recorded its first case in mid-March and it has grown steadily since, with 56 cases now recorded and one death.

Guam only has 250 staffed hospital beds, which includes 13 staffed intensive care beds, for a population of 164,000 people.

Local officials have warned the health system could reach “break point” as early as this week.

Virgin Australia wants bailout, but Qantas says help shouldn’t be offered to ‘badly managed’ businesses

Virgin Australia has lifted out of a temporary trading halt, following reports this morning the airline had asked the Morrison Government for a $1.4 billion loan to help it through the coronavirus crisis.

Virgin said its bailout proposal remained subject to approval by the Virgin Australia Holdings board and the Australian Government “and may or may not include conversion to equity in certain circumstances”.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has warned against Federal Government assistance for its competitor, saying help should not be offered to businesses that had been “badly managed”.

He has repeatedly said it would be a case of “survival of the fittest” in the airline sector.

And while Mr Joyce has previously argued the company was not seeking any bailout, he said that if its competitor was thrown life support, the Government needed to “level the playing field” to avoid distorting the market.

A source for Qantas confirmed that its revenue is three times higher than Virgin’s, meaning it would want a $4.2 billion loan.

Australia’s coronavirus growth rate drops

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt says the growth rate of coronavirus in Australia for the past three days has averaged about 9 per cent, down from “25-30 per cent growth just over a week ago”.

“In these most difficult of times, with these most difficult of measures that none of us had ever dreamt we would ever be involved in, you have risen to the occasion,” he said.

Mr Hunt says Australia’s numbers are also more accurate than in some other countries, because it has “the broadest and widest testing program” in the world, with the possible exceptions of Singapore and South Korea.

Over 230,000 tests have been completed, with 4,361 confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far across Australia.

Coles supermarket to remain open after employees test positive

Coles says a store at Mulgrave in Melbourne’s south-east will stay open after two employees tested positive to COVID-19.

The retail giant said it had conducted extensive cleaning at the store and six staff who had contact with the infected workers have gone into self-isolation.

Coles’ chief operating officer Matt Swindells said the company has been working closely with the Health Department to make sure both staff and customers are safe.

“The Department of Health have commended us on our approach so far. I expect them to continue to commend us as we carry on making sure that the satisfaction levels that we implement go beyond the guidelines that the Government have applied,” he said.

Two-person rule comes into effect from today

New restrictions limiting gatherings to just two people have come into effect, with state and territory leaders vowing to crack down on those flouting the rules.

Police can issue fines for breaches, with penalties of up to $1,600 in Victoria and $1,000 in New South Wales.

The limit does not apply to people within your own household.

Tasmania records its second death from coronavirus

An elderly man has died as a result of coronavirus in the Royal Hobart Hospital overnight.

It follows the death of a woman in her 80s in the North West Regional Hospital in Burnie on Monday morning, and brings the national toll to 19.

“Now that we’ve had unfortunately our second death, there is a message in that for all of us,” Premier Peter Gutwein said at a press briefing this morning.

“This virus is deadly. This virus will kill you. Take the necessary steps that you can.”

Tasmania has had 69 confirmed cases of coronavirus.

Queensland says contact tracing has led to 50,000 people being contacted

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says law enforcement agencies will be used to bolster contact tracing of people who have gone into quarantine or isolation over coronavirus concerns.

The state has recorded 55 new COVID-19 cases, with 743 cases overall.

“In terms of the number, the 743, the Department of Health have contacted 50,000 people relating to that 743,” Ms Palaszczuk said.

Ms Palaszczuk said 174 people from international flights were in quarantine in hotels in Queensland.

Italy extends lockdown until at least Easter

The Italian Government says it will follow the recommendation of scientists and extend a nationwide lockdown, originally set to end on April 3, until at least Easter Sunday, April 12.

Doctors and other health experts have been cautioning that Italy’s cases of COVID-19 haven’t reached their peak yet, despite some encouraging numbers.

Italy has the world’s highest number of deaths from coronavirus at 11,591.

The death toll has risen by 812 in the last 24 hours, the Civil Protection Agency said, reversing two days of declines, although the number of new cases rose by just 4,050, the lowest increase since March 17, reaching a total of 101,739.

Italians have been under lockdown for three weeks, with most shops, bars and restaurants shut and people forbidden from leaving their homes for all but non-essential needs.

The World Health Organisation’s top emergencies expert Dr Mike Ryan said the number of cases in Italy should stabilise soon.

“We should start to see stabilisation because the cases we see today really reflect exposures two weeks ago,” he said.

Pope Francis’s vicar for Rome, Cardinal Angelo De Donatis, tested positive for coronavirus, but the two are not believed to have had personal contact recently.

France becomes fourth country to pass 3,000 deaths

French health authorities have reported 418 new deaths from coronavirus on Monday (local time), an increase of 16 per cent that takes the total to 3,024.

The most recent figures made France the fourth country to cross the 3,000 deaths mark after China, Italy and Spain. The United States has also since reached that mark.

The daily French Government tally only accounts for those dying in hospital, but authorities say they will very soon be able to compile data on deaths in retirement homes, which is likely to result in a big increase.

Health agency director Jerome Salomon said the number of cases had risen to 44,550, a rise of 11 per cent in 24 hours.

‘We’re beyond staggering already’: New York Governor

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has issued an urgent appeal for volunteers, saying an additional 1 million health care workers are needed to tackle the crisis.

“Please come help us in New York now,” he said as the state’s death toll climbed by more than 250 in a single day for a total of more than 1,200 victims, most of them in the city.

“We’ve lost over 1,000 New Yorkers. To me, we’re beyond staggering already,” he said.

Already, close to 80,000 former nurses, doctors and other professionals in New York had stepped up to volunteer.

A Navy hospital ship, also sent to the city after 9/11, had arrived with 1,000 beds to relieve pressure on the city’s overwhelmed hospitals.

New York City is America’s worsthit area, but New Orleans, Detroit and other cities are also seeing alarming clusters.

“Anyone who says this situation is a New York City-only situation is in a state of denial,” Mr Cuomo said.

Ruby Princess crew members taken to hospital, another 114 cases confirmed in NSW

Three more crew members from the coronavirus-struck Ruby Princess cruise ship have been taken to hospital in Sydney.

The water police and the ambulance service were involved in the operation at Botany Bay overnight.

The latest operation comes after three other crew members were evacuated from the ship on Sunday night, suffering respiratory symptoms.

The ship is at the centre of a major coronavirus outbreak, with more than 200 passengers having contracted the virus.

This morning, NSW health authorities confirmed 114 new coronavirus infections in the state, taking its total to 2,032.

ABC’s Norman Swan tests negative for coronavirus

The ABC’s medical expert Norman Swan, presenter of The Health Report on Radio National and co-host of the Coronacast podcast, says he has tested negative for coronavirus after developing flu-like symptoms.

He revealed the good news on Twitter:

Labor says it supports massive wage subsidy package

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers says while there will be “issues to be ironed out”, Labor supports the massive $130 billion JobKeeper program that was announced by the Federal Government yesterday.

As part of the package, eligible businesses will receive $1,500 per fortnight per employee and will be required to pass it on.

“It was only last week they were saying it’s a bad idea, when we were saying it’s a good idea. If they’ve had a change of heart, it’s a good thing,” Mr Chalmers told ABC News Breakfast this morning.

He said issues that would need to be worked out included casuals who have been in a workplace for less than 12 months missing out, and what will happen in cases where people have already been dismissed by their employer.

Olympics to begin on July 23, 2021

The Tokyo Olympics will now take place from July 23 to August 8, 2021, one year later than originally planned.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said there was “no blueprint” to follow for how work with international sporting federations, venues and sponsors to reschedule an Olympics.

“We have to see, and in particular the organising committee will have to see, whether the sports venues are still available,” he said.

“We have to cooperate with all the broadcasters … we have to find agreement with sponsors. It’s a really huge challenge.”

The delay is the first in the 124-year history of the modern Olympics. The next Games after Tokyo are scheduled to take place in Paris in 2024.

Indian health worker sprays migrants

Indian health workers have sprayed a group of migrants with disinfectant, amid fears that a large-scale movement of people from cities to the countryside risked spreading coronavirus.

Footage from Reuters showed a group of migrant workers sitting on a street in Bareilly, a district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, as health officials in protective suits used hoses to douse them in disinfectant, prompting anger on social media.

Nitish Kumar, the top government official in the district, said health workers had been ordered to disinfect buses being used by the local authorities, but in their zeal had also turned their hoses on migrant workers.

“I have asked for action to be taken against those responsible for this,” he said in a tweet.

India imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 25, with thousands of labourers subsequently fleeing cities for their home villages after work — and public transport — vanished.

Australians there have called on the Morrison Government to get them out due to concerns about police brutality and growing tensions in the nation, where 29 people have died as a result of COVID-19.

Spanish cases overtake China’s

Spanish hospitals are stretched to their breaking point as the number of confirmed coronavirus infections there overtakes China’s tally.

With a population of only 47 million people to China’s 1.4 billion, Spain’s tally of infections reached 85,195 — an 8 per cent rise from the previous day, but down from earlier increases that had rocketed up to 20 per cent.

Spain also reported 812 new deaths, raising its overall confirmed death toll to 7,340.

At least six of Spain’s 17 regions were at their limit of ICU beds and three more were close to it, authorities said on Monday.

Despite the declining infection rate, Spanish health official Dr Maria Jose Sierra said there’s no end to the stay-at-home restrictions yet in sight.

“Reducing the pressure on the ICUs will be important for considering de-escalation measures,” said Dr Sierra, who took over Monday as the health emergency centre’s spokesperson after its previous director tested positive.

Prince Charles ‘in good health’

The Prince of Wales is out of self-isolation and in “good health” after being diagnosed with coronavirus last week, Clarence House said in a statement.

He was in isolation for seven days after testing positive for COVID-19.

Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, remains in self-isolation in line with the advice from the UK Government.

She was also tested for coronavirus, but returned a negative result.

“It is not possible to ascertain from whom the Prince caught the virus owing to the high number of engagements he carried out in his public role during the recent weeks,” the statement from Clarence House at the time read.

Adelaide company launching mass mask production

An Adelaide food packaging factory will be used to produce nearly 150 million surgical masks as coronavirus puts major pressure on Australia’s medical supplies.

Detmold Group has reached agreement with the Federal and South Australian governments to make 20 million masks a month by June.

Eventually, it hopes to produce 100 million masks for the National Medical Stockpile and 45 million for South Australia.

Detmold Group said it would employ up to 160 extra staff and spend more than $1 million on local supplies, however Industry Minister Karen Andrews acknowledged the new production line would “not be up and running overnight”.

Wuhan gets back to business

Shopkeepers in the city at the centre of the world’s coronavirus outbreak are reopening, but customers were scarce after authorities lifted more of the anti-virus controls that kept tens of millions of people at home for two months.

I’m so excited, I want to cry,” said a woman on one of Wuhan’s major shopping streets, the Chuhe Hanjie pedestrian mall, who would give only the English name Kat.

Kat said she was a teacher in the eastern city of Nanjing and was visiting her family when most access to Wuhan, a city of 11 million people and the manufacturing hub of central China, was suspended on January 23 to stem the spread of coronavirus.

“After two months trapped at home, I want to jump,” she said.

Air New Zealand to lay off thousands

Air New Zealand said 3,500 employees would be laid off in the coming months, as it grapples with severe global travel curbs that have led to cancellation of nearly all its flights.

In an email to staff and customers, chief executive officer Greg Foran said if domestic restrictions on travel go beyond the planned 28 days, further lay-offs may be required.

Mr Foran said that in a year he expects staffing levels to be 30 per cent smaller than before coronavirus.

F1 engineers pitch in to help NHS

Mercedes, the Formula One team featuring star driver Lewis Hamilton, has helped to develop a breathing aid that could keep coronavirus patients out of intensive care and ease some pressure on Britain’s strained health service.

As part of a combined effort involving seven Britain-based teams, Mercedes worked with engineers at the University College London and clinicians at University College London Hospital to adapt and improve a device that bridges the gap between an oxygen mask and the need for full ventilation.

The device, known as continuous positive airway pressure, has been used extensively in hospitals in Italy and China to deliver oxygen to the lungs of coronavirus patients during the pandemic.

University College London said the adapted devices have been recommended for use in Britain and that 100 of them are being sent to its hospital for clinical trials.

There is the potential for quick roll-out by Mercedes to hospitals across the country.

Tim Baker, a professor from UCL’s department of mechanical engineering, said clinicians called on the “capability of Formula One” to reduce a process “that could take years down to a matter of days,” with the adapted device taking less than 100 hours to develop from an initial meeting.

State-by-state numbers

Australia has 4,361 confirmed cases of COVID-19. (These numbers were last updated at 8:22am AEDT on Tuesday, March 31).

  • New South Wales: 2,032
  • Victoria: 821
  • Queensland: 689
  • Western Australia: 355
  • South Australia: 305
  • ACT: 78
  • Tasmania: 67
  • Northern Territory: 14

The national death toll stands at 19.

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March 31, 2020 04:52:26

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