“That’s the sort of thing we’ll hopefully avoid by going to bans on mass gatherings and other social distancing measures.”
Victoria now has 36 confirmed people with COVID-19. As of Friday morning, Australia has 156 confirmed cases including three deaths. In 14 of those cases, the cause of the infection has not been determined.
All infected people are recovering at home in isolation.
Of the nine new cases diagnosed on Thursday, seven have a history of international travel – suggesting they caught it overseas. Health authorities are interviewing them in a bid to track their travel through Victoria.
One infected person appears to have flown from Sydney to Melbourne on Monday, while another arrived in Melbourne from Dubai on Tuesday.
The Department of Health and Human Services is warning anyone who may have come into contact with the infected people to be aware of their symptoms, and seek medical advice if they fall sick.
Places the infected people were in recent days include:
- Qantas flight QF430 from Melbourne to Sydney on March 9.
- Qantas flight QF459 from Sydney to Melbourne on March 9.
- Mary Miller Cafe in Fitzroy North on March 10 between 12.30pm and 2pm.
- No. 19 Cafe in Ascot Vale between 8am and 9am on March 10.
- Emirates flight EK0406 from Dubai to Melbourne on March 10.
Healthcare system prepares, surgery could be moved
Meanwhile, Victoria’s healthcare system continues to gear up for an influx of patients.
At The Alfred hospital, doctors have been working out where they can place patients on ventilators if the intensive care ward becomes overloaded.
Some patients could find themselves bumped into beds in waiting rooms usually reserved for surgery, said Dr Stephen Warrillow, director of intensive care at Austin Health.
Additional ventilators have been sourced. Elective surgery could be deferred to make way for critically ill patients, he said.
The main issue patients with severe COVID-19 infections face is difficulty breathing as their lungs fill with fluid.
“Their oxygen levels will fall low, they will develop extreme shortness of breath, and they can no longer support their breathing independently, and they will need support with mechanical ventilation,” said Dr Warrillow.
For the sickest, a tube will be placed down their windpipe to allow a machine to breathe for them.
“One of the reassuring aspects is we have had a little more time to prepare than many parts of the world,” said Dr Warrillow.
“We have done scenario training for this sort of thing many times before. Australia managed the H1N1 pandemic very well, and that was with a lot less preparation.”
If public hospitals do become overwhelmed, patients scheduled for elective surgery will likely be sent to private hospitals, said Lucy Cheetham, acting CEO of the Australian Private Hospitals Association.
So far, no elective surgery had been cancelled, she said.
“As far as I can tell, at the moment, it’s business as usual.”
Updated health advice for Australians
The symptoms of coronavirus include:
- Shortness of breath; and
- Breathing difficulties
If you suspect you or a family member has coronavirus you should call (not visit) your GP or ring the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
Liam is The Age and Sydney Morning Herald’s science reporter