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Coronavirus: What we know today, April 16

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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. This afternoon, masks withdrawn from SA hospitals, one more positive COVID-19 test in SA, and the PM outlines a course for lifting some restrictions in four weeks.

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

KEY POINTS

Masks withdrawn from metro hospitals

A shipment of over 600,000 N95-standard masks distributed by the Federal Government to front-line health workers at metropolitan Adelaide hospitals has been withdrawn by SA Health this afternoon. 

The directive followed concerns from infectious disease experts that the masks do not adequately protect workers from “forceful” fluid transmission.

Deputy chief public health officer Dr Michael Cusack said the masks are safe to wear with face shields, however SA Health did not want to take “even the smallest risk”.

SA Health has asked for further advice from the Federal Government regarding the risk and will conduct an audit on who has used the masks.

Cusack said the masks would not be used “pending further clarification” from the Federal Government.

SA Health Minister Stephen Wade said he was made aware of the concerns regarding the face masks yesterday afternoon.

The masks were delivered to the Royal Adelaide Hospital on Saturday, one day after an intensive care nurse at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19.

The nurse did not use the N95-standard mask and no health workers who used the masks are in quarantine.

SA Health has identified 34 people who came in contact with the nurse, including 29 nurses, three doctors and one ward clerk, who are all in quarantine.

An investigation into the case is ongoing.

Cusack said SA Health currently had enough personal protective equipment to supply frontline workers.

SA coronavirus cases rise to 434

SA Health’s latest update on COVID-19 – provided this afternoon – is that one more person has been diagnosed with the virus in South Australia, bringing the total to 434. 

Of the total cases, 70 per cent or 308 people have recovered.

There are currently ten people in hospital with the coronavirus, with an additional two in the intensive care unit at the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

One of the patients in the ICU is in a critical condition.

There are four cases where SA Health hasn’t been able to identify a link to another known case.

PM charts course to easing restrictions

Australia’s strict economic coronavirus restrictions will remain in place for at least the next four weeks as governments plot the road out of the crisis.

An encouraging slump in infection rates has prompted federal and state leaders to set crucial benchmarks for restarting some jettisoned parts of the economy.

A broader testing regime, better contact tracing through a new app, and a greater capacity to respond to local outbreaks will determine reopening some sectors.

Scott Morrison said governments would look at restarting high-value, low-risk economic activity in mid-May if those goals can be met.

But the prime minister said social distancing measures would remain in place for the foreseeable future while a vaccine is unavailable.

“When it comes to the specific economic restrictions that have been put in place, after the next month then there will be the opportunity to review that and potentially make some changes,” he told reporters in Canberra after Thursday’s national cabinet meeting.

Economic lifelines, including wage subsidies and a higher dole, have a six-month life putting them on course to end in September.

Morrison said a patient approach to relaxing restrictions was needed.

“If you ease off too quickly too early, then you end up making the situation even worse, and I don’t just mean in the health terms,” he said.

“If you move too early and the health response gets out of control, then the economic consequences will be even worse.”

Schools to remain open in Term 2

Schools will remain open for a “soft start” to Term 2 for those students who feel safe to attend, Premier Steven Marshall said this afternoon.

It follows a national cabinet meeting today, during which state and territory leaders received advice from health authorities that schools should not close.

Marshall said the Government was currently determining student attendance figures for Term 1, which ended early due to the coronavirus.

He said parents could still determine whether their children should go to school based on personal circumstances and “no child would be turned away”.

“I fully appreciate that many parents and teachers have felt very anxious, especially in the early days of the coronavirus onset and especially when we had much greater daily infection rates,” he said.

“What we have seen in the last few weeks is a steady decline int he number of new infections on a daily basis, in fact for more than two weeks now we’ve had more recoveries than new infections in South Australia.

“We feel that we’re in a better position to be providing advice and (chief public health officer) Dr Nicola Spurrier will be providing advice for teachers in the lead up to the start of Term 2.”

South Australian testing regime to widen from today

South Australians will be checked for coronavirus in increased numbers as the state goes on a “testing blitz”.

Health Minister Stephen Wade said low COVID-19 case numbers in recent days had allowed for the broader testing regime.

“This blitz will give us the opportunity to get a better read on the level of disease in the community,” he said on Wednesday.

SA Pathology chief Tom Dodd says the state has the resources to conduct up to 45,000 tests over the next two weeks.

But he doubts it’ll unearth a significant number of fresh cases.

More than 38,000 tests have already been conducted since the state opened up 54 rapid testing centres, but the testing rate has been dropping through April.

It was limited to people with symptoms who had travelled or been in close contact with known cases, have links to clusters or are health care workers.

But it’s since been widened to anyone with even mild symptoms, such as a fever or cough, a sore throat or shortness of breath.

Over the next two weeks, people who meet the following criteria can be tested:

Source: SA Health

Independent retailers slam impending extension of shopping hours

The State Government is planning to grant supermarkets another 30-day period of extended shopping hours, but independent retailers say the decision will simply increase their costs.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said he would grant supermarkets another month of the option to trade 24 hours on weekdays, and until 9pm on weekends, when the first 30-day trial ends on Sunday.

The exemption, granted in the name of public safety and “flattening the curve”, has dismayed independent supermarket operators.

“We are hearing that the big multi-national and international chains and retailers were consulted,” said Colin Shearing, CEO of SA Independent Retailers.

“Once again, not one of our SA owned independent retailers have been consulted. Why not?  It would have been good if the Treasurer or his Chief Adviser had picked up the phone and at the very least spoken with us.

“Why would you blatantly consider the big end ‘non-SA owned’ retailers first, and at the expense and the protection of our homegrown South Australian business owners?”

Shearing said that with less money being spent in the local economy, increasing shopping hours would just add to operators’ costs.

However, Lucas argued the shopping hours’ extension had been made on advice of SA Health in the interests of facilitating “social distancing”.

“In these unprecedented times, we want to make it as easy and safe as possible for South Australians to get the groceries they need, while giving supermarkets the flexibility they need to cater for increased consumer demand while supporting staff,” he said.

The Treasurer said Anzac Day restrictions will still apply for non-exempt shops (supermarkets over 400sqm and other shops over 200sqm) on Anzac Day, with shops permitted to open on April 25 from midday to 9pm.

The ministerial exemption allows supermarkets to open 24-hours on weekdays, 12am to 9pm on Saturdays and from 9am to 9pm on Sundays

South Australia’s unemployment rate remains the nation’s worst after the release of March figures today – with the full impact of coronavirus job cuts, business closures and social distancing regulations still to be measured.

The data shows SA’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate climbed to 6.2 per cent, up from its already nation-topping February rate of 5.8 per cent.

Widespread COVID-19 shutdowns and social restrictions were not implemented until the second half of the month, meaning the April data will be worse again.

Police fine party-goers for breaching restrictions

SA Police issued fines to attendees of a birthday party at Coober Pedy on Tuesday night for breaches of COVID-19 restrictions.

Police said today they found a “birthday party in full swing”, with at least seven adults and 10 children attending.

“Three of the adults were issued with expiation notices and four other adults were given cautions for breaching gathering restrictions,” Police said.

Leaders discuss school virus safety boost

Scott Morrison is set for a showdown with some state and territory leaders over when students should return to school as cracks emerge in the national response to coronavirus.

Education is expected to be the central focus of the prime minister’s national cabinet meeting with premiers and chief ministers later today.

Morrison has called for increased student attendances in coming weeks despite Victoria and Queensland maintaining a strict policy of learning from home where possible.

Federal and state health officials are at odds, while Morrison government ministers fall in behind the prime minister’s push for more face-to-face learning.

Senior cabinet minister Peter Dutton said children should return to classrooms provided there was no risk of second or third wave of infections.

“The experts at the moment are saying kids should go back to school. I hope that that’s case sooner than later,” he told 2GB radio.

But Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton is adamant schools should undertake remote learning for term two, which has just started in the state.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall is holding his position that school should stay open in term two, arguing that children are in a safer environment in school.

Sewage test could reveal virus hotspots

Australian researchers are working on a new sewage test that could soon help identify coronavirus hotspots.

Researchers from The University of Queensland and the CSIRO are developing the test, which finds genetic traces of the illness in raw sewage.

It’s hoped it will not only identify specific areas where COVID-19 is present but also the approximate number of infected people.

The scientists successfully detected SARS-CoV2 – the virus that leads to the disease COVID-19 – in untreated sewage from two plants in southeast Queensland.

The RNA fragments they found would have been shed by infected people in the region.

“This is a major development that enables surveillance of the spread of the virus through Australian communities,” says UQ health sciences Professor Kevin Thomas.

Australian work on the test progresses other work done by teams in the US and The Netherlands.

Latest Australian COVID-19 figures

Global COVID-19 news – in brief

Rudd slams Trump’s ‘lunatic’ WHO decision: Germany, Japan, France, Britain and Canada should form a core group of nations to defend global institutions in response to US President Donald Trump’s “lunatic decision” to cut funding to the World Health Organisation, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has suggested.

G20 to freeze debt of poorest countries: Finance officials from the Group of 20 major economies have agreed to suspend debt service payments for the world’s poorest countries through the end of the year, a move quickly matched by a group of hundreds of private creditors.

Hundreds get COVID-19 on French warship: Nearly 700 sailors assigned to the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle’s naval group have tested positive for the coronavirus, the armed forces ministry says.

UK virus outbreak ‘probably’ peaking: Britain’s coronavirus outbreak is probably peaking but it is too early to start relaxing restrictions, officials say, as critics warned that the country may end up with the worst death rate in Europe due to government failings.

New York to require face coverings: New York residents will be required to wear face coverings when they are out in public and coming in close contact with other people, US state Governor Andrew Cuomo says.

EU plans lockdown exit, US cheques arrive: US government relief cheques have begun arriving in citizens’ bank accounts as sluggish sales at reopened stores in China and across Europe suggested business won’t necessarily bounce right back when the coronavirus crisis eases.

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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