‘Last resort’ plan if virus breaks out
IN THE event of an outbreak of coronavirus in Australia, major public events that draw large crowds would be cancelled while schools and workplaces in affected areas would close.
The government announced today it has activated its emergency response plan for global pandemics, as the COVID-19 disease continues to spread further through Asia and Europe.
At a press conference in Canberra this afternoon, Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia was well-prepared - but not immune to the increasing risk of an outbreak.
"What we've done, as you would hope that a government would do, is prepare for all eventualities, but so far in Australia, we have contained the virus on official medical advice," Mr Hunt said.
"But this plan is about saying, 'we're not immune but we are as well-prepared anyone else in the world'."
The plan outlines how authorities should react in the event of an outbreak in Australia, in a manner that Mr Hunt described as "rings of containment".
Infected individuals and their families or affected groups would be contained in a bid to slow the impact, he said.
Depending on the severity of an outbreak and an infected individual's movements, that could see the closure of schools and workplaces.
And in a scenario where rates of infection spike in major cities, large-scale events like AFL matches could be cancelled.
"The possibility of (cancelling) events is always there, but that is a last resort," Mr Hunt said.
Japan and Korea have cancelled all upcoming major sporting events as health authorities battle to slow the rates of spread.
Professor Brendan Murphy, Chief Medical Officer, said the emergency plan was flexible so authorities could respond quickly to individual scenarios.
"One of the things we would be very focused on if we got an outbreak is trying to slow the pace of development by containing cases, because a slowly evolving outbreak has much less pressure on the system, even though it might have a longer impact," Professor Murphy said.
"If you had an outbreak in a particular city or state, if it got to a certain size you might close the schools or change the configuration of the hospitals to deal with that.
"If it's in several cities or states, you do it according to the local needs at the time. What we've learned from repeated flu pandemics is you have to adapt the response according to the circumstances almost on a daily basis."
Meanwhile, Mr Hunt announced that an eighth Australian evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship has tested positive for the disease.
The Victorian man has been in quarantine since returning to the country as his partner who he was travelling with had already been diagnosed.
"He could not have been in a more contained environment, but nevertheless (the case) has now been confirmed," Mr Hunt said.
And moments before he addressed the media, he was told of another suspected case that's being investigated by the National Trauma Centre. Mr Hunt didn't provide further details.
The concern for health authorities is the rising number of countries outside of China where COVID-19 has been detected, making it more likely of further outbreaks in Australia.
"But as the Minister has also said, we are still contained in Australia," Professor Murphy said.
"We have no community transmission of this virus in Australia, and that's a really important message for the public. There is no reason to change anything you do, to wear masks or behave in a way that is different from normal."
The government has updated travel warnings for northern Italy after an outbreak there, with a level two advisory - urging travellers to exercise extreme caution - now in place for the regions of Lombardi and Vietto.
In Iran, an existing travel warning urging Australians to avoid the Middle Eastern country has been updated to include additional advice relating to COVID-19.
Mr Hunt pointed out that Iran has reported an increase in the numbers and a significantly high number of deaths, "which may be a strong guide that the number of cases is greater than those that have been reported".