NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said while the handful of COVID-19 cases in NSW so far had been mild, the increased global spread of the disease coupled with a looming flu season means hospitals will have to be prepared for more cases.
“We might end up having influenza coming at a peak time as well as the COVID-19 infection,” she said.
“We would anticipate we’d see more presentations to emergency departments, we also might see more admissions to our ICU department.”
Dr Chant said the health department was planning for that scenario, making sure there were enough critical supplies and capacity for general hospital admissions.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said NSW’s emergency departments were, generally, already “chockers” and urged people with viral symptoms to see their GP first.
“We would say to people, whether it’s any sort of virus, anything at all, not just the COVID-19, or anything else, or the flu, if you don’t need to go to the emergency department don’t go,” he said.
“Because you are actually making sure that one of your family members or one of your friends won’t be able to get into that emergency department. So go and see your GP.”
Saudi Arabia has temporarily halted religious visits that include stops in Mecca and Medina, which draw millions of people a year as the Islamic world’s holiest cities, to help prevent the spread of coronavirus into the country.
Tourism visa-holders from countries with reported coronavirus infections will also be denied entry, the Saudi embassy in Washington said in an emailed statement, without naming any countries. The steps are temporary and subject to continuous evaluation, according to the statement.
The government is acting to block the deadly virus as neighbouring countries including Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates have flagged dozens of cases. No infections had been reported by Saudi Arabian authorities as of Wednesday.
The kingdom is also suspending entry by citizens from Gulf States traveling under their national IDs, as well as travel by Saudis to the Gulf States. Saudis abroad who want to return or Gulf citizens in Saudi Arabia who wish to leave may do so, according to the statement.
A person in northern California has contracted the coronavirus without travelling outside the United States or coming in contact with another patient known to have the infection, the first sign that the disease may be spreading within the community.
How the person acquired the respiratory disease is unknown.
“It’s possible this could be an instance of community spread of COVID-19, which would be the first time this has happened in the United States,” the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said.
The infected individual is a resident of Solano County, which is home to Travis Air Force Base, where hundreds of Americans repatriated from China and others brought home from the Diamond Princess Cruise ship have been kept in quarantine. Many of them have been released.
The health agency left open the possibility “that the patient may have been exposed to a returned traveller who was infected”, but the state of California is calling the case its first instance of community transmission.
Community spread would represent a significant turn for the worse in the battle against the virus in the US.
To date, the United States has 60 known cases of the infection, with 59 among people who traveled to Asia or were spouses of people who went there. The vast majority, 42, picked up the virus while quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan.
Australia is the fourth-most prepared country in the world for a coronavirus pandemic, according to an analysis by Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security.
At his press conference today, President Donald Trump held up a graphic showing the US had the highest Index score of 83.5 by level of preparation to respond to an epidemic or pandemic.
Australia wasn’t far behind with a score of 75.5, below the UK and the Netherlands.
The researchers ranked 195 countries on their ability to prevent, detect and respond to health emergencies based on data from the Global Health Security Index.
Their report found international preparedness was “very weak” overall, with an avergae score of 40.2 out of 100.
Olympic legend Ian Thorpe is urging Australia’s athletes to consider their long-term health before deciding to compete at the Tokyo Games.
As concerns mount over the spreading coronavirus, the Australian swimming great says Olympic organisers must ensure athletes will be safe at the Games due to start on July 24.
“I would most definitely be concerned,” Thorpe told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
“What we need to know is to use some of the best expert disease specialists to find out what is the risk to the team.
“What is the risk to the other nations and how can we have an Olympic Games, one that is safe, that doesn’t put athletes at risk?
Thorpe’s comments come a day after senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Dick Pound warned the Tokyo Games could be cancelled due to the coronavirus.
Pound said any decision on whether the Olympics can proceed could be put off until late May.
“In and around that time, I’d say folks are going to have to ask: ‘Is this under sufficient control that we can be confident about going to Tokyo or not?”‘ Pound said.
Sydney residents are being asked to consider booking a staycation in the city for this year’s Mardi Gras with hotel bookings currently down by 10 per cent as a result of COVID-19 and associated travel bans.
Tourism Accommodation Australia NSW CEO Michael Johnson said Mardi Gras was traditionally one of the busiest times of the year for CBD accommodation providers.
“Mardi Gras is an internationally recognised event which brings tens of thousands of people from around the world to Sydney,” Mr Johnson said.
“It is the second biggest annual event in terms of economic uplift in NSW, generating about $30 million.”
But he said fears about coronavirus and ongoing bans on tourist travel from China have “definitely had an impact”.
Sydneysiders should take the opportunity to “feel like a tourist in your own city, view the parade then relax and stay the night in the CBD,” he said.
Mr Johnson said TAA was working closely with the State and Federal Government on the travel ban issue.
“Our tourism bodies are doing all they can to re-direct resources to mitigate the fallout and ensure we entice travellers in new and existing markets,” he said.
“There are uncertain times ahead but we are a resilient industry.”
A Melbourne teenager diagnosed with coronavirus as her family was preparing to evacuate the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where four people have died, could recover and fly home before her quarantined family.
Kaitlyn Soh, 16, was diagnosed when her family were preparing to evacuate the Diamond Princess in Japan and fly to Darwin, where they would have spent another two weeks in quarantine.
As she is a minor, her family were given the option of having just one parent stay back with her but they insisted on staying together in Japan.
If she ends up recovering before the family’s 14-day quarantine period is over, her mother Aun Na Tan said Kaitlyn would fly home alone and stay with other relatives.
Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton told reporters at the Royal Childrens Hospital that authorities were working on the basis that a coronavirus pandemic was inevitable.
“I think it’s much, much safer that way,” Dr Sutton said. “We have to proceed with planning on the basis it is inevitable and we can and should expect more cases in Australia in the coming weeks or months. I don’t want to see us get caught out at all.”
When asked about what contingency plans in Victorian hospitals, Dr Sutton said the plans had to be adaptable for any scenario and would be dependant on the severity of the outbreak.
“That might look like cohorting where you have a respiratory ward for coronavirus patients in hospitals,” he said. “It might have a separate stream for emergency department patients.”
Speaking at a press conference in Melbourne, Victoria Health Minister Jenny Mikakos has confirmed three incidents of racism towards staff at the Royal Childrens Hospital, condemning the “distressing” behaviour.
“I am very concerned that there have been reports that some parents are refusing to have their children attended to by some of the staff at the hospital,” she said. “That’s been done basis of fear of the coronavirus and ethnicity and it is completely unacceptable.”
She stressed there were stringent protocols in place around the state in containing coronavirus and there was no risk to patients at any hospital in Victoria.
Ms Mikakos said she was aware of one other incident at a Melbourne hospital where staff member had been subjected to racism due to coronavirus, but declined to say where it was.
“It’s very distressing to have a patient refuse to be attended to by staff because of their ethnicity or their race,” she said.
“That’s just completely unacceptable behaviour. Patients cannot expect they can just pick and choose who will look after them when they come to a public hospital. They need to have respect and compassion for health care workers because they do amazing work.”
The economic impacts of the coronavirus outbreak are spreading.
Agricultural banking specialist Rabobank on Thursday said it expects demand for Australian beef from China to be well down through the first half of this year.
Australian beef producers lifted production through 2019 as the drought left many unable to keep up their herds.
Much of that increased beef ended up on dinner plates across China. Sales to China jumped by 84 per cent last year with the market now accounting for 24 per cent of Australia’s beef exports.
But Rabobank senior animal proteins analyst Angus Gidley-Baird said while it was difficult to fully predict the impact of coronavirus on demand it was clear sale volumes would be down in the near future.
He said there was a large inventory of frozen beef left over from the Lunar New Year while large numbers of people in China were avoiding eating out.
“Food service and tourism will remain disrupted until the virus is contained, with decreased
restaurant sales contributing to weaker beef demand in the first half of the year than in
previous years,” he said.
“Importers also face the additional challenge of limited cash flow due to unsold stock at
ports, and financial losses incurred in the late-2019 price plunge.”
Mr Gidley-Baird said apart from dampening demand for beef, the virus outbreak could also lead to a fall in global beef prices.
“We do, however, expect China’s beef imports to continue to grow in 2020, with a strong rebound in the second half of the year,” he said.