People queuing at a coronavirus test at Royal Melbourne Hospital. Picture: Tony Gough
People queuing at a coronavirus test at Royal Melbourne Hospital. Picture: Tony Gough

Clear advice on when to see your GP

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has made it clear when Australians should go to the doctor if they think they have coronavirus.

His comments come after the government was accused of mixed advice on what people should do if they have symptons of the virus.

"If you've been in contact with somebody who has been diagnosed, if you have been in a

high risk area, and you show symptoms, then that is when you should be seeking testing," Mr Hunt told Today.

"We are building up so we have got this additional capacity. It will be in many ways a challenging time but we have just been through the bushfires.

"We saw the incredible Australian spirit and support for each other. Now is the time for that set of our best selves.

"Our support, the work of the states and doctors but at the same time supporting each other and backing each other. We are providing the environment where the health will be taken care of, but only the community can work together to provide that support and we all have a role."

His comments come after the government announced its $2.4 billion plan to tackle the virus.

Free phone consultations with GPs and pop-up clinics to help hospitals handle demand will form part of the government's $2.4 billion coronavirus response.

Mr Hunt says more than half of Australia's 100 cases had recovered and it was unlikely people could be infected twice.

RELATED: Follow our full coronavirus coverage

 

People queue to get tested for coronavirus at Royal Melbourne Hospital. Picture: Tony Gough
People queue to get tested for coronavirus at Royal Melbourne Hospital. Picture: Tony Gough

The government released its response package on Tuesday night, promising further measures were on the way.

It will establish 100 pop-up clinics across Australia to divert people who may be infected away from hospitals.

From Friday, Australians will be able to completely bulk-bill phone hook-ups with GPs to diagnose coronavirus symptoms.

GPs at the clinics would be able to see up to 75 patients a day, meaning 1.3 million Aussies could be tested over the next six months.

"Some are already up and running. For example, you have four hospitals in Melbourne that have different types," Mr Hunt said today about the clinics.

"South Australia has a very innovative drive-through clinic. Melbourne practice has done that. These will be progressively rolled out now.

"We are building for the situation where there will inevitably be greater demand. Our job has been to provide the resources, to work with the medical community in designing this, so people have different ways to seek treatment."

NO TRAVEL BAN FOR ITALY

Mr Hunt said it won't be necessary to introduce a countrywide travel ban like in Italy, although Qantas has slashed flights by nearly one quarter and more temporary schools closures are likely.

The government would also be reviewing its travel advice to Italy where more than 9000 people have contracted COVID-19 and 460 have died, Mr Hunt said on Tuesday.

There are an estimated 114,000 cases in 107 countries across the world, with 1000 recorded deaths.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said it was highly unlikely people could catch the virus more than once.

"I think that's a very important message to Australians," Mr Hunt added. "So now is the moment of pressure ... this is a once-in-50-year challenge that we face."

Three Australians have died from coronavirus, with states and territories setting up specialist clinics as the government looks to combine information into a smartphone app.

 

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has followed US authorities in advising citizens, especially those with underlying health concerns, to reconsider taking an overseas cruise as the outbreak continues to spread.

Prof Murphy said there had been some confusion about who needed to be tested, saying it was only returned travellers from overseas with symptoms like a cough or sore throat.

Three schools in NSW and Victoria shut on Tuesday after three students tested positive to COVID-19, with similar temporary closures likely.

"School closures, I think, will become the norm as we go ahead but we are doing everything we can to keep our children safe," federal Education Minister Dan Tehan told Nine's Today program.

The minister was asked why schools were being closed for a day or two, while people with or suspected of having the virus are being told to self-isolate for two weeks.

"The schools have been closed for a day so they can be thoroughly cleaned," he replied.

Sydney is the worst-hit city.

On Tuesday, six more people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in NSW, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 61.

NSW Health said one of the new patients, a woman in her 30s, is a relative of a Sydney aged care facility resident who died from coronavirus. The department has also contacted students and teachers from a Sydney TAFE class after it was discovered an infected person attended for two days while potentially infectious.

Meanwhile Qantas has slashed the capacity of its international flights by almost one quarter for the next six months due to the virus' impact, a decision that will ground 38 planes.

The government in coming days is expected to announce private sector involvement in providing pathology services and new advice on the testing of healthcare workers.

 

 

 

 

PLAN TO TACKLE CORONAVIRUS OVERALL

• $2.4 billion to deal with health impacts.

• Medicare item so health services can be delivered by audio or video to people with symptoms at home

• Respiratory clinics

• National communications campaign.

FEVER CLINICS

• Up to 100 'pop-up respiratory clinics' set up across Australia at a cost of $205 million to test those concerned they may be sick

• Will divert people with mild or moderate symptoms away from emergency departments and GPs.

• Clinics staffed by doctors and nurses will be able to see up to 75 patients a day over six months.

MEDICARE ITEM

• A new item will be created at a cost of $100 million, so people at home in self-isolation and quarantine can access health services and reduce the risk of exposure to others. Will start Friday and be fully bulk-billed

• If someone has a chronic disease, like a lung condition, and is at risk if they contracted the virus, they could consult their GP via Skype or FaceTime

COMMUNICATIONS CAMPAIGN

• $30 million campaign to start this week, using television, radio, print, digital, social media, public transport, shopping centres and doctors' waiting rooms.