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Coronavirus: What we know today, April 17

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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, one new case of COVID-19 reported in SA as the Government prepares to roll out a 45-minute test for the virus.

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

KEY POINTS

One more coronavirus case in SA

A person in their 50s who recently travelled overseas tested positive for COVID-19 in South Australia today, raising the state’s total cases to 435.

SA Health says 331 people have now recovered from their infections or about 76 per cent of all cases.

The person who tested positive today was picked up as part of the QANTAS cluster screening, but SA Health says they are not one of the airline’s workers.

Seven people remain in hospital with two in intensive care. One of those – a 68-year-old man – is listed as critical.

There remain four cases with no known epidemiological link.

Almost 2000 people were tested for coronavirus yesterday following the launch of a two-week “testing blitz” across the state – a tripling of the amount of testing conducted the day before.

Of those, 233 people were tested at Flinders Medical Centre, 224 were tested at the Lyell McEwin Hospital, 167 were tested at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and 79 were tested at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

A further 140 people were tested at the Hampstead Rehabilitation Centre drive-thru clinic and 134 people were tested at the Repat Hospital.

SA chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said the increased tests gave “a much better level of confidence about community transmission in South Australia”.

45-minute coronavirus testing rolled out

SA Pathology this afternoon announced it would roll out new technology across 10 regional hospitals over the coming fortnight that allows patients to be tested for COVID-19 within 45 minutes.

The Cepheid GeneXpert instruments, which are already available in metropolitan hospitals, use swabs taken from the nose and throat to test for coronavirus in a “miniature laboratory”.

SA Pathology clinical service director Dr Tom Dodd said the “highly-reliable” US-manufactured equipment, which costs $600,000 in total, would not replace the state’s current screening technology, but would assist with the flow of patients through country emergency departments where it is more difficult to get rapid results back. 

“At this stage we’re anticipating more than 300 tests per week,” Dodd said.

“We’re working very closely with Cepheid corporation and are very confident we’ll get a continuous supply.”

SA universities facing billion-dollar hit

Modelling released today suggests that South Australian universities could lose up to $922 million over the next three years, due to lost international student revenue.

The Mitchell Institute at Victoria University has calculated that SA’s broader economy would also be hit, losing $1.06 billion.

Its report says the next blow will be mid-year when $100 million will be lost in tuition fees when international students are unable to travel here to begin their studies.

The report says international students made up a third of student revenue for SA universities.

“The sudden and steep decline in international student enrolments is a significant economic challenge for universities, and this affects the opportunities for Australian students too,” said report author Peter Hurley.

Yesterday, InDaily reported on fears that SA universities could lose a generation of young staff, employed as casuals but many unable to access the Federal Government’s JobKeeper subsidy.

SA protective masks deemed “compliant”

SA Health says a batch of masks earmarked for use by frontline health staff treating COVID-19 patients are considered “compliant”, despite withdrawing them from use earlier in the week.

In a statement today, the department said “the Commonwealth has clarified overnight that the masks are compliant with all relevant Australian and international standards”.

“All masks held within the national stockpile meet Therapeutic Goods Association (TGA) requirements and the required standards in Australia, the USA and EU,” the statement said.

“We will be discussing this morning how we return the masks to use in our hospitals.”

SA Health withdrew more than 600,000 of the N95 facemasks this week amid concerns over their performance when splashed with liquids.

They were first distributed across SA public hospitals on Saturday but were pulled after concerns were raised by staff and after an independent assessment was conducted.

“Taking extreme caution in terms of the welfare of our staff, we have removed these masks from all of the hospitals in the state, pending further advice and clarification from the commonwealth,” SA’s Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Mike Cusack said yesterday.

“These clearly are masks that are in use across the nation.”

Cusack said South Australia still had sufficient protective equipment and would be in a position to produce its own in coming weeks with the establishment of a local manufacturing facility.

Virus mobile tracking app may be mandatory

Mobile phone tracking software could be compulsory if not enough Australians voluntarily download the application to help in coronavirus case tracing.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says at least 40 per cent of the population needs to use the app to make it effective.

“My preference is to give Australians a go at getting it right,” he told Triple M on Friday. “That’s my plan A and I really want plan A to work.”

Morrison has likened using the tracing app to national service.

“I know this would be something they might not normally do at an ordinary time but this is not an ordinary time,” he said.

“If you download this app you’ll be helping save someone’s life.”

Better contact tracing is one of three main benchmarks the government wants to meet before strict restrictions can be lifted.

The other two are a broader testing regime and a greater capacity to respond to local outbreaks.

Morrison says the app won’t be used by police as evidence to prosecute people for breaching social distancing requirements.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese – who found out about the app in the newspaper – is concerned about the prospect of forcibly being tracked.

“One of the things that would occur if that was the government response would be people would simply stop taking their phone to places,” he told reporters.

“It’s up to the government, frankly, to explain exactly what it has in mind with this app and to be very clear with the Australian public about whether it is going to be voluntary or whether it is going to be some level of compulsion involved.”

The app is being developed based on a Singaporean version, TraceTogether.

Government underwrites domestic air flights

The deputy prime minister has welcomed news private firms are looking to buy Virgin airlines as it struggles during the economic fallout of COVID-19.

It comes as the federal government moves to underwrite critical domestic routes as Australian airlines suffer from huge drops in business.

Michael McCormack also said aviation sector employers dipping into their own super to bail out Virgin was an option.

“We want to see a market resolution for this and if Virgin can’t raise the capital through its shareholders … then let’s see what happens,” he told ABC on Friday.

“We want to see two airlines out the back of the COVID-19 and I think we can and we will.”

A private equity firm and an investment bank are considering purchasing Virgin, the Australian Financial Review reported on Friday.

Virgin went into a trading halt this week and McCormack continued to shoot down suggestions the government should buy the airline to save it.

The commonwealth will underwrite a range of Qantas and Virgin flights, spending an initial $165 million to help sustain the Australian airlines, it announced Thursday.

The new arrangements will last for eight weeks with a government review set to determine if more support is needed.

China suffers economic fall

China has suffered its worst economic contraction since the 1970s in the first quarter as it fought the coronavirus, and weak consumer spending and factory activity suggest it faces a longer, harder recovery than initially expected.

The world’s second-largest economy shrank 6.8 per cent from a year ago in the three months ending in March after factories, shops and travel were closed to contain the infection, official data showed Friday.

That was stronger than some forecasts that estimated a contraction of up to 16 per cent, but China’s worst performance since market-style economic reforms started in 1979.

Some forecasters said China, which led the way into a global shutdown to fight the virus, might rebound as early as this month.

But they have been cutting growth forecasts and pushing back recovery timelines as negative trade, retail sales and other data pile up.

At least a month before restrictions start to be eased

Australians have have been told it will be at least four weeks before the easing of strict restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Before any measures are scaled back federal and state leaders want crucial benchmarks met to ensure the nation could handle a spike in cases.

This includes a broader testing regime, better contact tracing through a mobile phone app and a greater capacity to respond to local outbreaks.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said some parts of the economy could be restarted in mid-May if those goals are met.

But he expects social distancing measures to remain in place until a vaccine is available.

“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 told reporters in Canberra.

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

There are 6468 cases of coronavirus in Australia, including more than 3700 people that have recovered.

The death toll has reached 63.

National cabinet will meet again next Tuesday, where an easing of elective surgery measures will be discussed.

Leaders remain divided over whether students should return to school, with Mr Morrison saying education is a matter for the states.

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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