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$1 billion boost for Medicare telehealth, domestic violence services

Griffith University researchers found domestic violence reports tripled in parts of Hubei after the Chinese province where the coronavirus first began was put into lockdown in January.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the package would be rolled out immediately in order to mitigate some of the secondary health and economic effects caused by coronavirus.

“I am very aware many Australians are understandably anxious, stressed and fearful about the impacts of coronavirus and what it brings,” he said.

“We are focused on saving lives and saving livelihoods and this new support package will provide much needed care and help to so many Australians facing hardship at no fault of their own.”

The domestic violence package will see money go to counselling support services including 1800RESPECT, Mensline, support programs for women to protect themselves and a coronavirus specific anti-domestic violence campaign.

The telehealth funding will allow Australians to connect to GPs through FaceTime or over the phone and bill it to Medicare in a move designed to take pressure off hospitals and emergency departments while allowing people to access treatment at home. The service will be available until at least September to all Australians not just those in self-isolation, quarantine or in remote areas.

“Increasing the capacity of these services helps put Australian health care in the best possible position to assist those seeking support,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

The government will also provide $200 million for emergency food relief organisations such as Meals on Wheels to deliver food to the vulnerable.

The measures come as national cabinet prepares to meet on Sunday to consider a raft of further economic measures and stage three restrictions. The states are being given more freedom to implement harsher measures as cases rise, with NSW and Victoria expected to be first movers to stage three.

Stage three will see all non-essential businesses shut and residents told to stay at home unless they are going to a medical appointment, the pharmacy or the supermarket.

NSW recorded its sharpest daily jump on Saturday, adding 212 cases as an eighth person died to take the national death toll to 14. NSW now accounts for 1617 of all 3583 cases in Australia, while Victoria has 685 after adding 111 on Saturday.

The national cabinet, which is made up of Mr Morrison and state and territory leaders, is wary of putting in the draconian restrictions too early because they will cost hundreds of thousands of more jobs and would last six months.

The cabinet will discuss putting in measures to “hibernate” businesses over the six months by limiting their expenses such as rent and power bills while they struggle to attract customers.

Australian National University infectious disease specialist Peter Collignon said Australia was in good shape, compared to many other countries, to curb the spread of the virus if the public stuck to social distancing orders, avoided large gatherings and any unnecessary travel.

Scott Morrison and the new national cabinet.

Scott Morrison and the new national cabinet. Credit:Dominic Lorrimer

“I think we are actually in a much better position because we haven’t had this unrecognised community spread,” he said. “We don’t have to all become hermits. It would really a bad idea if we became hermits for six months.”

Professor Collignon said winter was going to be “the critical period”.

“If you are going to stage three it will be when you have a lot of local transmission and its winter,” he said.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.

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