A man aged in his 70s who had travelled aboard the Ruby Princess has become the 13th victim of the coronavirus in Australia.
The man passed away today at Joondalup Hospital, becoming WA’s second death from COVID-19.
It comes as its revealed only two of the 100 “one-stop-shop” fever clinics promised by the federal government have opened so far.
In Victoria, a third coronavirus death was confirmed this afternoon, taking the state’s toll to three.
Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said all three Victorians who died were men in their 70s who had pre-existing health conditions.
But he warned that people over 70 who do not have pre-existing health conditions are also at risk.
Earlier, Opposition health spokesman Chris Bowen said the number of Australians infected with coronavirus is doubling every three days and respiratory clinics are needed now.
On March 11, the Morrison government announced they were investing in 100 dedicated respiratory clinics to be a one-stop-shop for people who are concerned they may have the virus, to be tested and isolated from other patients.
Health Minister Greg Hunt has claimed there are 175 such clinics around Australia but those clinics are funded by the states.
Advice from the Minister’s Department show that only two of those 175 clinics are run by the Australian Government, Mr Bowen said.
”The good work done by state governments and the private sector is not the same as the clinics previously promised by the Government,” he said.
“The clear facts published on the Department of Health website confirms there are only two fever clinics up and running,” he said.
‘We are setting these clinics up over the next few weeks. Clinics in Ryde, NSW, and Morayfield, Qld, started operating on 21 March 2020.
If you’re not currently near Ryde, NSW, or Morayfield, Qld, there is no GP Respiratory Clinic in your area yet, Mr Bowen said.
“The Minister for Health must take every action available to him to speed up the operation of the 100 respiratory clinics as soon as possible,” he said.
This would include any resources available through the National Coordination Mechanism or the Australian Defence Force.
It comes as a new 15-minute COVID-19 test kit is set to roll out across Australia next week.
The 15-minute Antibody IgM/IgG kit from Endo X requires a drop of blood to check for antibodies to the virus and return results in 15 minutes.
It will help essential workers such as doctors, nurses, and teachers, and the general public in returning to their jobs.
It will allow essential workers to be screened daily and reduce quarantine periods of suspected cases from 14 days to five.
Dr. David Badov, Director of Endo X, said: “The test will reveal if the patient has antibodies in their blood and are now immune to COVID-19, supporting workers in getting back to their jobs in this time of uncertainty.
“We encourage healthcare providers to get in touch with us as soon as possible so that these tests can get to those who need it most.”
The update comes as Scott Morrison lifts the 30-minute limit on haircuts nationwide after enforcing the stage two measure to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Hairdressers and barbers will, however, must follow a four square metre rule between each person in store, as well as minimise personal contact during appointments.
States and territories can also provide exemptions to the 10-person limit for funerals in cases of hardship, Scott Morrison said on Thursday.
HOW DRONES COULD DETECT VIRUS
A ‘pandemic drone’ invented by University of South Australia researchers could be employed to scan crowds and workplaces and detect people infected with COVID-19.
The University of South Australia (UniSA) team, led by Defence Chair of Sensor Systems Professor Javaan Chahl, has previously invented drones that uses a computer vision system which can distinguish survivors from deceased bodies on battlefields in Afghanistan from 4-8 metres away.
As long as the upper torso of a human body is visible, the cameras can pick up the tiny movements in the chest cavity, that indicate a heartbeat and breathing rat.
Now they have fitted drones with a specialised sensor and computer vision system that can monitor temperature, heart and respiratory rates, as well as detect people sneezing and coughing in crowds, offices, airports, cruise ships, aged care homes and other places where groups congregate.
The University of South Australia (UniSA) team will work with North American drone technology company Draganfly Inc to immediately start integrating commercial, medical and government customers.
Algorithms for measuring temperature and detecting coughing and sneezing movements are still being optimised at their lab in Adelaide, South Australia.
“There’s a lot of engineering going on right now but the aspiration is to have this in some sort of initial capability within six months,” Professor Chahl said.
“It’s one thing to have it work in a science experiment type scenario but getting it to run in the field on a real piece of hardware is quite a challenge.”
Professor Chahl has demonstrated that heart rate and breathing rate can be measured with high accuracy within 5-10 metres of people, using drones and at distances of up to 50 metres with fixed cameras.
They have also developed algorithms that can interpret human actions such as sneezing and coughing.
The research has previously looked at using the drones to monitor and react to elderly falls, look for signs of life in war zones or following a natural disaster and monitoring the heart rates babies in neonatal incubators.
SPAIN’S DEATH TOLL EXCEEDS CHINA
Spain’s death toll has risen past 3400, eclipsing China’s, after a one-day spike of 700 fatalities. It is now second only to Italy, with over 7500 deaths.
“If we are not already at the peak, we are very close,” said Fernando Simon, head of Spain’s health emergency co-ordination centre. “I cannot say that we have reached it.”
Even once the numbers crest, it would be “counter-productive” to think about relaxing restrictions anytime soon, he added.
The latest figures were announced as Spain entered the 11th day of an unprecedented lockdown to try and rein in the deadly coronavirus outbreak that has now infected 47,610 people, the health ministry said.
Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo, who has been in hospital since Monday, has tested positive for the virus and is improving, the government said.
Two other ministers in Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s government are infected. The surge in numbers has brought the medical system to the brink of collapse, with Spain struggling with a lack of medical supplies for testing, treatment and the protection of frontline workers, and a growing number of cases among healthcare personnel with more than 5400 infected.
Meanwhile, Italy remains a country in crisis as it struggles to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. The country recorded its first death linked to the coronavirus at the end of February, now has 7503 deaths with 74,386 cases.
On Wednesday (local time) confronting images have shown Italian soldiers once again lifting coffins into army trucks as cemeteries and morgues are overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the coronavirus crisis.
A parish priest in the town of Seriate gave a final blessing to 45 coffins on Wednesday after they were laid out in rows in the San Giuseppe church.
The coffins were carried outside by medical and army personnel in hazmat suits and face masks, who loaded them onto trucks to be taken away in what is becoming a familiar sight in northern Italy.
The bodies were destined for a crematorium in Ferrara in the province of Emilia-Romagna, because their home province of Bergamo cannot cope with the mounting death rate.
The bodies will be cremated elsewhere, and the ashes later sent back to family via the Carabinieri police.
“We do not put them in a shed, but in a church, that is, in the house of the Lord,” said parish priest Don Mario, according to Italian media.
US STRIKES STIMULUS DEAL WORTH TRILLIONS
It comes as the White House and Senate leaders announced an agreement early on Thursday (Australian time) to an unparalleled, US$2 trillion ($A3.4 trillion) emergency bill to rush aid to American businesses, workers and a health care system slammed by the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s the largest economic rescue bill in history. The package is intended as a weeks-long or months-long patch for an economy spiralling into recession or worse and a nation facing a grim toll from an infection that’s killed nearly 20,000 people worldwide.
Underscoring the effort’s sheer magnitude, the bill finances a response with a price tag that’s half the size of the entire US$4 trillion ($A6.7 trillion) annual federal budget.
“A fight has arrived on our shores,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “We did not seek it, we did not want it, but now we’re going to win it.” “Big help, quick help, is on the way,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Mr McConnell likened the massive bill to “a wartime level of investment into our nation.”
A Senate vote appeared likely Wednesday, with a House vote to follow.
“We’re going to pass this legislation later today,” vowed Mr McConnell.
Central to the bill are a Republican-led plan to send direct checks to millions of Americans, up to US$3400 ($A5600) for a family of four, and loans to businesses.
They said passage of the legislation was expected in the Republican-led Senate by the end of Wednesday (local time).
That would leave final congressional approval up to the Democratic-controlled House. In a written statement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the bipartisan agreement “takes us a long way down the road in meeting the needs of the American people” but she stopped short of fully endorsing it.
“House Democrats will now review the final provisions and legislative text of the agreement to determine a course of action,” she said.
House members are scattered around the country and the timetable for votes in that chamber is unclear.
House Democratic and Republican leaders have hoped to clear the measure for US President Donald Trump’s signature by a voice vote without having to call politicians back to Washington. But that may prove challenging, as the bill is sure to be opposed by some conservatives upset at its cost and scope. Ardent liberals were restless as well.
The sprawling, 500-page-plus measure is the third coronavirus response bill produced by Congress and by far the largest. It builds on efforts focused on vaccines and emergency response, sick and family medical leave for workers, and food aid.
It would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide a US$367 billion ($A614 billion) program for small businesses to keep making payroll while workers are forced to stay home.
AUSSIES STRANDED ON CRUISE SHIP NEAR ROME
A coronavirus cruise ship carrying at least 200 Australians has docked near Rome, but “stir-crazy” passengers have no idea when they will be able to disembark.
The Costa Victoria has become another cruise from hell after the deadly illness was found on board.
There had been hope it would be able to dock in Greece before the infection was discovered, but now the passengers remain in limbo.
The ship has now docked at Civitavecchia, a town north west of Rome as it waits for authorities to deal with the ill patients on board.
Corina Maplesden said she was grateful that Italy had allowed the cruise to dock, but fearful of what lies ahead.
“Not going to sugarcoat it, cabin confinement sucks. Going stir crazy,” she said on Twitter after exchanging messages with News Corp Australia.
“My poor mum is stuck in a cabin up from us on her own and even though the staff have masks and gloves on they will not let her leave her room with full mask and gloves on to deliver even my asthma medication as I have run out and she has a spare.”
Italian authorities were doing a health check on the ship this morning Australian time before deciding whether passengers would be able to disembark.
Even if they do, getting back to Australia will be difficult because most international flights have been cancelled as a result of the global pandemic.
Ms Maplesden said she was emotional when she heard that coronavirus was on board the ship because of her asthma.
She feared her mother would have to make “big decisions” if she became ill.
“I have to believe we will get home safe and sound and that many people are worse off than me at the moment,” Ms Maplesden said.
She also posted a picture with her sister, adding: “I probably couldn’t have been confined to a cabin with anyone else and kept my sanity. We are complete opposites but she’s my big sister and we look out for each other. One day I’ll be by your side when your dream of seeing Venice finally comes true.”
There are thousands of Australians stranded on more than 20 cruise ships around the world that have been caught in the coronavirus storm.
MAKESHIFT MORGUES SET UP IN NEW YORK
Just days after New York leaders ordered people to stay home, authorities mobilised to head off a potential public health disaster on Wednesday, the city’s emergence as America’s biggest coronavirus hot spot a warning flare for the rest of the country.
A makeshift morgue was set up outside Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, and the city’s police, their numbers dwindling by the day as more fall sick, were told to patrol nearly empty streets to enforce social distancing.
Public health officials hunted down beds and medical equipment and put out a call for more doctors and nurses for fear the number of sick will explode in a matter of weeks, overwhelming hospitals the way the virus did in Italy and Spain.
Worldwide, the death toll climbed past 20,000, according to a running count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The number of dead in the US topped 800, with more than 60,000 infections.
New York State alone accounted for more than 30,000 cases and close to 300 deaths, most of them in New York City.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, again pleading for help in dealing with the coming onslaught, attributed the cluster to the city’s role as a gateway to international travellers and the sheer density of its population, with 8.6 million people sharing subways, elevators, apartment buildings and offices.
“Our closeness makes us vulnerable,” he said. “But it’s true that your greatest weakness is also your greatest strength. And our closeness is what makes us who we are. That is what New York is.”
STATES PUSH FOR EXPANSION OF VIRUS TESTING
States and territories will be able to expand coronavirus testing criteria beyond national guidelines at their own discretion if they have the ability to do so.
The National Cabinet agreed to an expanded list of criteria for coronavirus testing at a meeting on Wednesday night, and also included a provision allowing each state government to go further if they had the capacity to do more tests.
People who have two or more symptoms of COVID-19, such as a fever at or above 38C, a cough, shortness of breath or sore throat and are in specific settings will be able to be tested even if they have not been overseas or had contact with a known case.
The extended “suspected cases” testing will be offered to people in aged care, the military, boarding schools, correctional facilities, detention centres and remote Aboriginal communities.
Tests will also be available to people with at least two symptoms who are also “in a geographically localised area with elevated risk of community transmission” as defined by local health authorities.
“This is the minimum testing criteria,” a statement from Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
“States and territories have the discretion to expand their own criteria for testing if they have capacity.”
National leaders also agreed to implement “nationally consistent public health directions,” at the state and territory level on self-quarantine for individuals diagnosed with coronavirus.
The Cabinet extended the deadline for the suspension of semi urgent Category 2 and 3 elective surgeries at private hospitals to 11.59pm on 1 April 2020.
PATHOLOGY LABS LOSING BUSINESS
Pathology labs that carry out blood and other medical tests are going bust in a bizarre outcome from coronavirus.
While it was expected cafes, pubs and small businesses would close their doors as a result of the virus shutdown, medical testing labs were expected to be one of the few boom industries.
However, a major national laboratory MedLab has told News Corp they have lost around two thirds of their business as a result of COVID-19.
The reason is that people are too scared they will catch COVID-19 if they go to see their GP. So while doctors are ordering hundreds of thousands of coronavirus tests, they are requesting very few other pathology ones.
Most of the coronavirus tests (close to 200,000) are being carried out by public pathology labs. Medlab says it does not want to lay off staff and is calling on the Federal Government to impose a cap on the amount of rent Pathology companies have to pay GPs for collection centres in their clinics.
Medlab’s general manager Mannu Kala said the downturn in the viability of the pathology business was also a direct result of inflated pathology rents in GP practices.
News Corp revealed last year it now costs Australian pathology companies more to rent a broom cupboard in a GP clinic than a penthouse on Fifth Ave in New York.
And the exorbitant rents, which breach government rules, were adding $6 to the cost of every blood test.
Mr Kala wants the maximum rent paid to GPs to be capped at $60,000 per annum.
The government promised pathology firms in the 2016 election that it would fix the problem but it has taken no action except to collect information on the size of rents.
BREAKTHROUGH COULD SPEED UP VACCINE TESTING
Scientists in Singapore have managed to track gene changes in COVID-19 in a breakthrough that could speed up testing of potential vaccines against the coronavirus.
As a result it could take just days to evaluate potential vaccines instead of months.
The scientists are working with US firm Arcturus Therapeutics, on COVID-19 vaccine trials.
“You can know from the way the genes change – what genes are turned on, what are turned off,” said Ooi Eng Eong, deputy director of Duke-NUS Medical School said.
Swift assessment of such changes triggered by a vaccine allowed the scientists to determine its effectiveness and side effects instead of relying solely on responses from humans who received it.
Meanwhile, The journal Nature Biotechnology reports CRISPER researchers are also working on using the gene-editing technique to make faster, more accurate tests for COVID-19.
And work wide there are 14 fast point of care tests under development that take just 15 minutes to get a result.
As the pandemic grows, the spotlight is increasingly falling on testing as a way to contain the spread – for the lack of it has potentially been hiding a large number of cases.
PUTIN DELAYS VOTE THAT WOULD EXTEND RULE
Citing the coronavirus, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday (local time) postponed a nationwide vote on proposed constitutional amendments that include a change potentially allowing him to stay in office until 2036. Putin didn’t set a new date for the plebiscite, which was originally scheduled for April 22, saying that it would depend on how the pandemic develops in Russia. The country reported its first two deaths from the virus on Wednesday. He also announced during a televised address to the nation that the government doesn’t want Russians to go to work next week, except for those in essential sectors. Stores, pharmacies and banks will stay open, he said.
“Health, life and safety of the people is an absolute priority for us,” Mr Putin said.
“That is why I believe that the vote should be postponed. We will assess how the situation in the regions and the country as a whole develops, and will set a new date for the vote based exclusively on professional opinion and advice from doctors and experts.”
Under the current law, Mr Putin wouldn’t be able to run for president again in 2024 because of term limits. A new measure would reset his term count, allowing him to run for two more six-year terms if he chooses.
The 67-year-old Putin has been in power since 2000, longer than any other ruler in the country since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.
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