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Coronavirus: What we know today, April 10

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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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Key points

SA authorities urge vigilance

On the first day of the Easter long weekend, SA Health added seven people to its list of confirmed coronavirus cases, bringing the state’s total to 428.

It was the highest daily rise in six days, and followed a single extra case on Thursday, although the optimism was offset by three COVID-19-related deaths in the past three days.

Of Good Friday’s new cases, ages ranged from people in their 20s to one in their 80s, and included one case linked to a cluster in the Barossa involving a group of Swiss tourists.

No new cases were linked to community transmission.

Significantly, 179 of the state’s total confirmed cases have since recovered, however 15 remain in hospital with six in intensive care.

Four of those remain in a critical condition.

Dr Michael Cusack, SA deputy chief public health officer, said today’s total was “probably on the higher end that we’re going to see over the next few days”, but warned: “It’s not that we think we’re through this – we’re still in the opening rounds of coronavirus, and we have some distance to go.”

The Government and health authorities are preaching vigilance, urging South Australians not to travel during the Easter break, in a bid to prevent the virus spreading to regional areas, many of which remain thus far unaffected.

Premier Steven Marshall, however, rejected suggestions beaches should be closed, saying he had attended Henley Beach himself this morning “for a couple of hours”.

“There weren’t large groups congregating – by and large, we’re very pleased with what we’ve seen today,” he said.

“We’re not concerned about people out for a jog or a swim.”

Cusack backed this, saying “from a public health perspective, I don’t think we’re now in that position where we’d be advising [the Government] to close beaches”.

Meanwhile, Australia’s national deputy chief medical officer says the nation is on the “cusp” of seeing the coronavirus dying out locally but he warned if social distancing measures were relaxed the epidemic could yet explode.

Professor Paul Kelly says the reproductive rate has been somewhere between one and two – meaning every infected person infects between one and two others.

“Where you want to be is below one – so less than one other person being infected after a person themselves has the infection,” he told reporters in Canberra today.

“Once you get to that point the virus dies out or the epidemic dies out.

“At the moment we’re probably on the cusp of that in Australia … whether that’s where we’re going to be in several weeks or months remains to be seen.”

Kelly stressed “we’re not at that stage yet” and warned people needed to remain vigilant in the fight to flatten the curve of case numbers.

Without the social distancing measures currently in place, one positive person could lead to 400 other cases within a month, he said.

“That is the sort of explosive epidemic we’ve seen in other countries. We just cannot afford, at this stage, to be considering that happening.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison used his Easter message to drive home the importance of social distancing during what is usually a weekend of gatherings.

Drawing on his own faith, Morrison acknowledged this holiday would be vastly different, with online church services and no large family events.

“For Christians, not being able to gather does not diminish the hope that we have through this important Easter period,” he said in a video message.

‘This year, we will live out our faith by doing the right thing.

“That means staying at home, making sure we’re checking on our neighbours and supporting our communities and families, our friends.”

It comes as the SA Government steps up a recruitment drive for doctors, pharmacists and allied and scientific health professionals including physiotherapists, social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech pathologists, podiatrists and dieticians to bolster its COVID-19 response.

“This recruitment drive will source a pool of skilled health professionals, including those who have recently retired, that can be drawn upon as the need arises during the COVID-19 pandemic,” SA Health CEO Chris McGowan said in a statement.

“I urge all doctors, pharmacists and allied health professionals not currently working in the public health system to consider applying – this is an exceptional opportunity to make a real difference in our community.”

However, SA Health also confirmed a “temporary reduction” in SA Dental Services across the state “in line with national advice to protect patients and staff during the current COVID-19 pandemic”.

Acting executive director of SA Dental Anne Pak-Poy said the service had moved to Level 3 restrictions and only emergency care would be provided.

“As a result of Commonwealth changes, a reduction on services will see the temporary closure of around 20 clinics in the coming days,” she said.

“This was a hard decision, but is absolutely necessary to protect the immediate health and wellbeing of our clients and staff.”

New restrictions in place

SA’s state emergency co-ordinator – police commissioner Grant Stevens – is arguably the state’s most powerful public figure after the passage this week of legislation exempting him from a raft of state laws as he deals with the COVID-19 crisis.

His emergency response stepped up overnight, with police updating their restrictions on access to Residential Aged Care Facilities.

A new Direction, replacing one passed late last month, came into effect today, and states that a resident of an aged care facility who leaves the premises is prohibited from re-entering.

Exemptions include residents who leave the facility for medical or dental treatment or to attend the funeral of an immediate family member, or if a resident with dementia “or another cognitive impairment, such that the resident does not understand this direction or the consequences of leaving” inadvertently leaves the premises.

New visitation restrictions have also been added, although visitors will still able to attend once on a given day “for the purposes of providing care and support” to a resident or family member.

Stevens has also amended the existing rules restricting certain “Non-Essential Businesses”, adding an exemption for people working in freight and transport services to “consume food and beverages on premises commonly known as truck stops or truck driver lounges, provided that the density requirement is complied with”.

Bars, wineries, social and sports clubs, cinemas, galleries, casinos, restaurants, cafes and places of worship remain closed, along with “the provision of take away meals by wineries”.

Overnight, Mount Barker-based Prancing Pony Brewery wrote on social media that its operators had been “served with a police directive that we can no longer provide a ‘pick up service’ of our beers and meals”, effective from last night.

“Another hammer has fallen… it is absolutely devastating to our team that they will not be able to provide this service to you,” the post said.

SAPOL this afternoon issued a clarification, saying recent restrictions “have focussed on particular regions and businesses in a further effort to remove the incentive for SA residents and tourists from interstate and overseas to travel to these locations”.

“Wineries (with associated cellar doors), and businesses which similarly draw local, interstate and international visitors have been the focus of these directions,” a police statement said.

“These directions aim to remove the incentive for people to travel to and gather in these areas.

“On Friday April 9 specific directions were given to two businesses in the Adelaide Hills requiring them to trade on the same basis as wineries and cellar doors.

“The purpose of these directions is to align these businesses with others in the Adelaide Hills, reducing the risk that visitors will attend and potentially spread the virus.”

They added that “businesses located in the metropolitan area or townships have not been the focus of these directions, acknowledging they service local communities and don’t draw the same volume of people as the large country regions do collectively”.

“While this creates a perception of inequity, the strategy of discouraging travel more broadly is working to stop the spread of the virus, keeping those communities and SA safe,” police said.

“All directions are subject to constant review and based on the advice of SA Health with the mission clearly in mind – ‘slow the spread, flatten the curve’.”

Premier Steven Marshall told media Prancing Pony was subject to “exactly the same arrangement as for cellar doors”.

“It’s the same for those breweries,” he said.

“We can’t have one rule for one, and one rule for another.”

Bunyip’s Easter resurrection

Some good news on the local media front: regional mainstay the Gawler Bunyip has announced it will reopen – just over a week after it closed indefinitely.

Independent, community and regional media outlets have been shutting down over the recent weeks as they struggle through the coronavirus uncertainty, with many citing a collapse in advertising revenue.

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp last week announced it would suspend the printing of 60 “community titles” across the country, including its Messenger Newspapers in South Australia.

The Federal Government has announced the fast-tracking of $5 million from its Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund, a multi-year $48 million fund, to support struggling publishers – a move labelled “wholly inadequate” by the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance.

The Gawler-based Bunyip – owned by the Taylor Group which has five newspapers in regional SA – stood down its 12 staff las week, with group managing director Ben Taylor writing in a front page editorial that the decision had been “agonising”.

Taylor told InDaily at the time he hoped to re-open The Bunyip once the coronavirus crisis had passed, but noted country newspapers had been facing tough times even before the pandemic hit.

“It was the final straw,” he said.

However, just eight days later, the Bunyip last night posted a Facebook update: “Following overwhelming support we are excited to announce The Bunyip will be reopening its doors and our next edition will be on Wednesday, April 22…

“We look forward to bringing you further important COVID-19 updates and top local coverage.”

NSW Minister quits over public health breach, Brownlow medallist cleared

First he was fined $1000, now a NSW minister has been forced to quit cabinet, after it was revealed he had been staying to his holiday home.

NSW Arts Minister Don Harwin quit his portfolio today, two days after it was revealed he’d decamped to his Central Coast holiday home during the coronavirus crisis.

Harwin yesterday returned to his primary residence in Sydney on the premier’s instructions before announcing his resignation on Friday evening.

He’d been fined $1000 by NSW Police for relocating from Elizabeth Bay to Pearl Beach “in contravention of a current ministerial direction”.

“There is nothing more important than the work of the government in fighting the coronavirus crisis,” Harwin said in a statement.

“I will not allow my circumstances to be a distraction from that work and I very much regret that my residential arrangements have become an issue during this time.”

Don Harwin in January. Photo: Steven Saphore / AAP

He said he’d sought at all times to act in accordance with public health orders and “remains confident” he had done so, but acknowledged “perception is just as important during these times”.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in a statement that Harwin had “appropriately resigned from cabinet”.

“The police, who have been tasked by my government with enforcing these health orders, came to the conclusion that Minister Harwin breached the order,” the Liberal leader said.

“While Minister Harwin has served the people of NSW well, and he continues to assure me that he did not break the rules, the orders in place apply equally to everybody.”

The minister earlier this week said he’d been mostly living on the Central Coast for four months for health reasons.

“I live in a very built-up area in Sydney with high density and here I have windows that can open so I can have the fresh air and I can walk in fresh air and I have more room in my house here than I would have in my small apartment,” he told the Daily Telegraph in Pearl Beach.

The NSW Police commissioner has previously said people should be in lockdown at their primary residence to prevent regional hospitals from potentially becoming overwhelmed with sick city-dwellers.

Various officials across the world have been caught flouting self-isolation rules and reprimanded, including Scotland’s chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood and New Zealand Health Minister David Clark.

Meanwhile, WA police have cleared Fremantle captain Nat Fyfe for breaching intrastate travel bans after he was photographed surfing in Margaret River amid the state’s strict intrastate travel bans.

“It has been confirmed that Mr Fyfe entered the region in order to provide transport services and was waiting for a truck to be loaded when he went surfing… as a result, Mr Fyfe had a valid exemption and was compliant with directions regarding regional travel,” WA police said in a statement last night.

The Dockers said Fyfe had been driving a truck for his father’s business and had been in the region when he stopped for a surf.

Police said the Brownlow medallist did not breach social distancing requirements and the matter was now closed.

UK PM leaves ICU

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has left intensive care as he recovers from COVID-19, but remains under close observation in hospital.

Johnson, 55, was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital in London early this week with a persistent high temperature and cough, having been working in isolation after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

He was later rushed to intensive care, where he spent three nights receiving treatment.

“The Prime Minister has been moved this evening from intensive care back to the ward, where he will receive close monitoring during the early phase of his recovery,” a spokesman from his office said in statement overnight, Australian time.

“He is in extremely good spirits.”

“He must rest up,” his father Stanley Johnson later told BBC radio, thanking Britons for their outpouring of support and telling them to heed the lesson.

“If it can hit the Prime Minister for heaven’s sake, well it does come close to home.”

Johnson was the first world leader to be hospitalised with the coronavirus, forcing him to hand control of the world’s fifth-largest economy to foreign minister Dominic Raab just as Britain’s outbreak approaches its most deadly peak.

News of Johnson’s ongoing recovery prompted a small rise in the value of sterling against the dollar.

However, the Government statement did not give any details on when Johnson may be able to resume leadership.

The UK death toll in hospitals from coronavirus now stands at 7978 after a daily rise of 881 – a smaller increase than the 938 seen the previous day.

US death toll soars, but hope curve flattening

US deaths due to coronavirus have topped 16,400, according to a Reuters tally, although there are signs the outbreak might be nearing a peak.

US officials warned Americans to expect alarming numbers of coronavirus deaths this week, even as there was evidence that the number of new infections was flattening in New York state, the epicentre of the US outbreak.

But Americans must resist the temptation to backslide on social distancing now that signs of progress have emerged in the battle against the coronavirus outbreak, US medical and state officials said.

US deaths, the second highest in the world, set new daily records on Tuesday and Wednesday with over 1,900 new deaths reported each day, according to a Reuters tally.

US cases topped 459,000 on Thursday, up 27,000 from the prior day.

Only Italy has more deaths with 18,279 fatalities reported, although it has a much smaller population that the United States. After a marked reduction from previous peaks, new infections have picked up in the past two days, frustrating hopes that the illness was in clear retreat.

The Italian government is planning to extend its lockdown to contain the country’s COVID-19 outbreak until May 3, two trade union sources told Reuters after meeting ministers.

Spain’s Prime Minister warned overnight that nationwide confinement would likely last until May even though he said the worst should soon be over as the death toll slowed from one of the world’s most devastating coronavirus’ outbreaks. Spain reported 15,238 deaths, the third highest in the world.

Italy imposed a nationwide lockdown on March 9 to slow the spread of the virus and Spain followed on March 14.

New York state required all residents to stay home except for essential businesses on March 20 and now more than 94 per cent of Americans are under similar orders but the United States has resisted a national stay-at-home order.

Coronavirus hospital admissions in New York have dropped off but the state’s death toll has again spiked.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says new cases in hospitals fell to a fresh low of 200 in a sign the disease’s curve was flattening in the state, the epicenter of the US outbreak.

“You can’t relax. The flattening of the curve last night happened because of what we did yesterday,” Cuomo said, referring to the shape of graphs tracking new cases.

Several officials have hailed the apparent success of mitigation efforts as reflected in death projections that have been scaled down to 60,000 from more than 100,000.

Still, Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top US infectious disease expert, said it was important that people continue to stay home.

“We’ve got to continue to redouble our efforts at the mitigation of physical separation in order to keep those numbers down and hopefully even get them lower than what you’ve heard recently,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

OFFICIAL SOURCES OF ADVICE AND INFORMATION

Local updates and resources

State Government central information: https://www.sa.gov.au/

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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