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Coronavirus: What we know today, March 21

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Follow this post for rolling updates on the impact of the coronavirus in South Australia, the nation and the world, as well as the latest health information and links to official advice.

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Refresh this page for updates – scroll down for links to official health information.

Aust virus cases pass 1000, SA leaps to 67

SA Health today revealed a sharp jump in confirmed cases in South Australia, with an additional 17 bringing the total number to 67.

It came as a party of 18 US tourists was quarantined in the Barossa Valley after 10 members of the group returned positive COVID-19 tests after spending the past few days in self-isolation.

Chief public health officer Dr Nicola Spurrier told reporters there was “absolutely no need for people in the Barossa to panic”, saying her team was working through the process of interviewing the group and ascertaining where they had been in SA.

Spurrier previously said South Australia had conducted the most tests per capita of any state in the country.

SA Pathology says it has undertaken more than 13,000 coronavirus tests, while as of Thursday more than 3700 people had been tested at dedicated metropolitan clinics.

Another two testing clinics opened on Friday at Gawler East, north of the CBD, and Kangaroo Island.

Meanwhile, a multi-agency command centre has been established in Adelaide to co-ordinate South Australia’s response to the pandemic.

The centre will bring together senior health officials and representatives from police, the ambulance service, the fire service, the state emergency service and other government departments.

The number of coronavirus cases in NSW has ballooned to 436 after 83 new cases were identified in the state, taking the national total past the 1000 mark.

The increase comes as the NSW government discovered four cases of cruiseships disembarking in Sydney with infected passengers on board.

“The majority of cases diagnosed in NSW were either acquired overseas or are a contact of a known case,” NSW Health said.

“Seventy-four cases have been locally acquired without an identified source of infection. Investigations to establish any links between cases in order to prevent further spread are ongoing.”

Govt to open 90 COVID-19 beds at Repat

The State Government will reactivate 90 beds at the Repat Health Precinct to prepare for the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health Minister Stephen Wade said today $6.5 million would be invested in revitalising former clinical wards at the Repat Health Precinct.

“As early as April, 188 beds will be available at ECH College Grove and Wakefield Hospitals,” Wade said.

“Work will also begin at the Repat to have 90 coronavirus dedicated beds ready in time for the winter demand.

“The Repat Health Precinct, ECH College Grove and Wakefield Hospitals will form part of COVID-19 response plan, allowing metropolitan hospitals to care for acute COVID-19 patients.”

He said the Repat beds would be dedicated to caring for “mildly acute” COVID-19 patients.

Opposition calls for greater school controls

South Australia’s Labor Opposition wants new measures implemented in schools including daily temperature checks for all students, mandatory hand sanitiser in every classroom and staggered recess and lunch breaks.

Labor also wants the Government to undertake “thorough planning” for a total closure of schools, citing Victoria which is closing its schools for two days to prepare for this potentiality.

Additional research funding to fight virus

The federal government is providing $13 million in medical research grants to find treatment options for coronavirus.

Up to 10 antiviral therapies that could fight the virus would be tested as part of a $8 million grant announced by Health Minister Greg Hunt on Saturday.

Another $5 million grant will be offered for clinical trials to treat and manage patients in severe acute respiratory distress because of the COVID-19 strain.

The grants will be funded from the government’s $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund which aims to support vital health and medical research.

“Research plays a critical role in ensuring Australia maintains its world-class health system and is particularly important as the world responds to COVID-19,” Mr Hunt said.

Applications for the antiviral grant will open next Wednesday, while respiratory grant applications will be accepted from Monday.

Separately, the government is investing more than $2.6 million in four cutting-edge diagnostics research projects at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity.

Italy tightens lockdown as deaths rocket

Italy has imposed further draconian restrictions on public life in an increasingly desperate effort to halt coronavirus infections after the death toll leapt by 627 in a single day, by far the biggest 24-hour rise recorded anywhere.

The mayor of the most badly affected city, Bergamo in the affluent northern region of Lombardy, said the true number of fatalities from the pandemic in his area was four times higher than was officially reported so far.

“Many of the elderly are dying in their houses or in old people’s homes, without anyone testing them either before or after they die,” Giorgio Gori told the Huffington Post.

He added that a dozen mayors of other cities had confirmed the same thing to him.

Responding to requests by the governors of the worst-hit regions, the national government in Rome said that from Saturday all parks would be closed and people could only take exercise around their homes.

OFFICIAL SOURCES OF ADVICE AND INFORMATION

Local updates and resources

SA Health: www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/COVID2019

National advice and information

Australian Government Coronavirus information hotline: 1800 020 080

Travel

Australian Government travel advice: smartraveller.gov.au

Check your symptoms

Free, government-funded, health advice: healthdirect.gov.au

– Reporting by InDaily staff, AAP and Reuters

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