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Coronavirus: What we know today, March 31

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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. Today, SA’s reported rate of infection spikes again, as six baggage handlers at Adelaide Airport test positive.

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

SA’s reported rate of coronavirus infection spikes

SA Health’s latest update on COVID-19 – provided this afternoon – is that 32 more people have been diagnosed with the virus in South Australia, bringing the total to 337.

It comes after the state’s rate of increase of confirmed coronavirus cases slowed over the past two days, with just six new cases yesterday and 12 positive tests on Sunday.

Today’s new cases ranged from people in their 20s to 80s.

Of the 32 people diagnosed today, three were linked to the Ruby Princess cruise ship, bringing the total number in the state to 74.

Cruise ship passengers now account for 104 – or around a third – of the total cases in SA.

Eight males ranging in age from 52 to 77 remain in intensive care, five of whom are in a critical condition and three of whom are in a stable condition.

Australia’s coronavirus death toll has risen to 19, after a man aged in his 80s died in Tasmania overnight

Eight people have died of the virus in NSW, four in Victoria, two each in Tasmania, WA and Qld and one in the ACT.

State chief public health officer Dr Nicola Spurrier said there were no further cases linked to the Barossa Valley.

Source: www.sa.gov.au/covid-19/dashboard

Qantas baggage handlers tested positive

Six Qantas baggage handlers at Adelaide Airport have tested positive for COVID-19, prompting SA Health to order up to 100 staff to go into quarantine.

State chief public health officer Dr Nicola Spurrier said the situation was “serious”, but the risk of passengers contracting the virus was “relatively small”.

She said SA Health was yet to determine how the virus was picked up.

“I’m absolutely hoping that there will not be an interruption to flights,” she said.

“I think the public should be reassured, actually, with the number of people that are in quarantine in South Australia – it means that the team have been able to get on top of doing the contact tracing.”

Investigations are underway to ensure baggage can continue to be offloaded while staff are in quarantine.

Qantas has been ordered to undertake a “deep clean” of the airport.

“If you have come off a flight today or in the last 24 hours it may be worth giving your bags a wipe over and also monitoring yourself for symptoms,” Spurrier said.

“We do know that it is normally human-to-human contact for COVID-19, but as many people are aware, the science is not all out on other ways of transmission and we do know that the virus can survive on hard surfaces.

“Don’t panic, but if you have developed symptoms, we would look at testing you.”

New restrictions on surgery

From today, the only surgical treatment that can be performed in South Australia is emergency surgery and procedures that are required to prevent the loss of life, loss of limb or permanent disability.

The direction was issued by SA Police to preserve the state’s supply of personal protective equipment, including surgical masks.

State chief public health officer Dr Nicola Spurrier said the direction aligned with advice from senior surgeons and the Federal Government.

She said abortions were considered “separate” from the restriction.

“We are mindful of the legislation in South Australia requiring two medical practitioners to examine a woman, and in fact that is something that we’ll be looking at,” she said.

“We certainly want to ensure that other health services are able to continue, regardless of this issue with COVID-19.”

Rush to sign up for wage subsidies

Businesses are rushing to sign up to the Federal Government’s $130 billion plan to subsidise wages during the coronavirus pandemic.

About 113,000 businesses have signed up for the scheme since it was announced on Monday afternoon.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg expects the plan will help six million Australian workers.

“Australia’s never seen income support like this,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.

Employees will receive a flat-rate payment of $1500 per fortnight through their employers in a bid to lessen the economic blow caused by the virus.

It applies to full and part-time workers, sole traders, as well as casuals who have been on the books for at least 12 months.

The subsidies will last for six months.

Private hospital deal

More than 34,000 extra hospital beds will be available to help Australia deal with the coronavirus pandemic under a new deal struck with the private sector.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the deal was a “very significant stride” in increasing the system’s capacity while guaranteeing the viability of all 657 private hospitals.

The agreement will mean more than 105,000 full and part-time hospital staff, including 57,000 nurses and midwives, will keep their jobs and join the fight against coronavirus, Hunt said on Tuesday.

It effectively puts all hospital beds in Australia under a single partnership.

The deal is expected to coast an extra $1.3 billion.

At the same time, the government is working to immediately double and then triple the number of ICU beds with ventilators.

At the moment there are about 2200 ventilated intensive care beds available – although only about 20 are being used by coronavirus patients at the moment.

Deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth said that was being immediately expanded to 4400 by repurposing other ventilators, such as those used for anaesthetics, and the private sector’s capacity.

Manufacturer ResMed is also now making 500 intensive care ventilators and another 5000 non-invasive ones, expected to be completed by the end of April.

The government’s overall target is to have 7500 beds with ventilators and accompanying staff.

Virgin seeks bailout

Virgin Australia is seeking financial support from the Federal Government to survive the fallout from coronavirus crisis.

The carrier, the second biggest after Qantas, wants a rescue package of up to $1.4 billion, The Australian reported on Tuesday.

Virgin Australia has confirmed it is seeking financial help but has not confirmed the amount or nature of potential bailout.

It could involve the government becoming a part-owner.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg declined to comment on any “specifics”, saying “we support strongly, the aviation industry”.

“I’ve been in close contact with leaders of the business community including the aviation sector (Virgin boss) Paul Scurrah and (Qantas chief) Alan Joyce,” he told ABC radio.

“But we have already illustrated our commitment to having a viable, sustainable aviation sector with more than $700 million in fees being waived.”

On-demand bus services suspended

A trial of Uber-style public transport buses in Mt Barker and the Barossa has been suspended by Adelaide Metro in the interests of public safety.

The services, which allow passengers to order a bus via an app to take them on self-selected journeys, has been suspended from today “until further notice”.

The trials began in January and were expected to continue for six months.

Other public transport services are continuing in South Australia, although patronage has plummeted.

SA firm to make millions of surgical masks

More than 100 million surgical masks will be pumped out by a South Australian company in the coming months under an agreement with the federal and SA governments that also includes the manufacture of respirators.

The agreement with Adelaide’s Detmold Group is for 145 million masks, with 100 million to go to the National Medical Stockpile and 45 million to SA.

“We have a sufficient supply of masks at the moment, but this work will ensure we sustain that supply over the months ahead,” federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said in a statement today.

Detmold will employ up to an extra 160 workers and invest more than $1 million in buying local supplies that will support other businesses.

“This new production line won’t be up and running overnight, that’s why we’re attacking this challenge from all angles, including continuing work to secure further masks out there in the market,” Ms Andrews said.

Detmold Group CEO Alf Ianniello said production will start by May from the company’s manufacturing facility in Brompton.

Meanwhile, the State Government announced today it would trial “vending machines” in hospitals to distribute protective equipment, including masks, to medical staff.

The trial will be conducted at Flinders Medical Centre, with SA Chief Nurse Jenny Hurley saying it will allow real-time monitoring of what stocks are available and better regulate the supply across hospitals.

“It will allow us to meet the needs of the teams out there. It’s critically important our staff have the right equipment at the right time,” she said.

Socially distant media conferencing

Many South Australians have been tuning in to various live streams of daily media conferences by Premier Steven Marshall for updates on SA’s response to the coronavirus crisis.

Media have thus far pooled resources to facilitate social distancing at these events, but from this week reporters will no longer be attending in person.

Instead, the Government is trialling a video conference hook-up, with each media outlet given the chance to ask questions, and the Premier delivering responses to a fixed camera.

NSW police tell cruise ships to go away

Police are urging foreign cruise ships floating off NSW to immediately go home rather than risk flooding the state’s hospitals with coronavirus patients.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller says there are nine cruise ships either docked in the state or waiting off the coast.

“There are thousands of people, potentially, in cruise ships off our coasts that aren’t members of our state and if we take them in, then that could well flood our system unnecessarily,” Fuller said.

“All the hard work we’ve done could be over. We will continue to allow them to have fuel and food … but it is time to go to your port of origin.”

There were on Monday night 285 coronavirus infections in NSW linked to cruise ships, including 189 from the Ruby Princess.

The vessel has become a major source of COVID-19 spread in Australia after infected passengers were allowed off the ship without adequate checks.

Three crew with severe coronavirus symptoms were taken to hospital on Sunday night and another three crew were ferried to hospital on Monday.

Fuller says health authorities will continue to treat stranded cruise passengers on humanitarian grounds such as two pregnant women who have asked to come ashore.

“We are receiving people sensibly back into NSW. They get the required healthcare, then go into mandatory isolation,” he said.

Following the Ruby Princess fiasco, NSW has banned all cruise ship passengers from disembarking until new protocols are in place.

Fuller has said no cruise passenger will enter NSW unless they have his personal approval.

Truck stops stay open

Truck stops and roadhouses will remain open during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure weary drivers can have a shower and a bite to eat.

Truckies have raised serious concerns about roadside diners and lounges being shut down during the COVID-19 outbreak, leaving them with nowhere to eat, sleep or go to the bathroom.

“We have heard their concerns loud and clear,” Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said on Tuesday.

“This is a common-sense solution which ensures heavy vehicle drivers have access to essential amenities, can take regular breaks and eat properly whilst delivering their vital cargo.”

Strict social distancing and personal hygiene measures will be enforced at rest stops allowed to stay open.

The global picture

Coronavirus death tolls have climbed by more than 800 in both Italy and Spain but the World Health Organisation’s emergency chief says cases in the two countries are “potentially stabilising”.

In the United States, New York’s governor issued an urgent appeal for medical volunteers from across the country amid a “staggering” number of deaths from the virus, saying: “Please come help us in New York, now.”

The plea from Governor Andrew Cuomo came as the death toll in the state of New York rose past 1200 – with most of the victims in the big city – and authorities warned that the crisis pushing New York’s hospitals to the breaking point is just a preview of what other cities across the US could soon face.

Cuomo said the city needs a million additional health care workers.

“We’ve lost over 1000 New Yorkers,” he said. “To me, we’re beyond staggering already. We’ve reached staggering.”

At the same time the governor’s appeal went out, a US navy hospital ship pulled into port with 1000 beds to help relieve pressure on New York’s hospitals.

WHO emergency chief Michael Ryan said on Monday there was no time to let up on tough containment measures.

“We have to now push the virus down, and that will not happen by itself,” he said.

Three-quarters of a million people around the world have become infected and more than 35,000 have died, according to a running count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

OFFICIAL SOURCES OF ADVICE AND INFORMATION

Local updates and resources

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

Mental health support line (8am to 8pm): 1800 632 753.

National advice and information

Australian Government Coronavirus information hotline: 1800 020 080

Government information via WhatsApp: click here

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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