There may not be a lot of Viking clapping at tonight’s Canberra Raiders match, in light of the COVID-19 spread. (AAP: Lukas Coch)
The head of the ACT’s peak body for doctors is urging people not to attend the Canberra Raiders season opener tonight — at odds with advice from the Government encouraging people to “enjoy themselves”.
- Canberra recorded its first case of coronavirus yesterday, meaning COVID-19 is now Australia-wide
- The Australian Medical Association is urging people to avoid large gatherings
- But the ACT Government says people should enjoy themselves while they can
Australian Medical Association (AMA) ACT president Antonio Di Dio said this morning that Canberrans needed to exercise caution and avoid social contact amid the coronavirus outbreak.
“We need to be ahead of the curve not behind it,” Dr Di Dio said, adding that “good leadership is about making painful decisions that people hate, and making them early”.
“Scientific data tells us that in all the epidemics over the years, going back as far as 1918, large gatherings were a huge problem in the early stages,” he added.
“There is no formal agency — neither the NRL yet or the Government yet — telling the Raiders to tell fans to keep away … and yet, I think it’s the right thing to do.
“I’ve been looking forward for months to tonight’s Raiders game and I’ve been a member for many years and I bleed green … but there’s a chunk of Bay 54 that will be missing my family tonight and it’s very, very sad.
“But my goodness me, it’s better to be safe than to take unnecessary risks.”
Tonight’s Portrait Gallery launch of the National Photographic Portrait Prize has been cancelled. (Supplied: National Portrait Gallery)
The National Portrait Gallery have taken this advice onboard, cancelling tonight’s launch of the National Photographic Portrait Prize.
In a statement, Portrait Gallery director Karen Quinlan said the winner of the prize would still be announced on their website at 7:00pm.
“I know this is a disappointing development, but the health of my staff, our visitors and the wider community is of utmost importance,” she said.
“We are following the advice of health professionals, who have recommended the cancellation of all large gatherings of people.”
The gallery remains open.
Government and AMA offering conflicting advice
On ABC Radio Canberra this morning, ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said Canberrans should be enjoying themselves while they can.
“We don’t have that community transmission, so this weekend, I think that advice stands,” she said.
“Of course, COAG is meeting today and it is possible that the Council of Australian Governments will change that and come up with a national position.
“But, at this point in time, our advice for Canberrans is that this weekend, get out and enjoy yourself, particularly because this situation could change quickly.”
The Office for Multicultural Affairs also this morning issued a statement which said that “the ACT Government is not considering cancelling any planned public events”.
The AMA’s ACT president, Dr Antonio Di Dio, said his family won’t be attending tonight’s Raiders game. (ABC News: Ian Cutmore)
But Dr Di Dio reinforced that “we do need to take some action, and it’s much safer to err on the side of caution”.
His advice is consistent with that of other medical professionals, who have been critical of the Federal Government’s hesitation to ban large public gatherings to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Victorian AMA president Julian Rait was leading the call for major sporting events like the Grand Prix to be cancelled.
“History indicates in the acceleration of an epidemic if large public gatherings are contained, it’s more likely you’ll be able to reduce the spread of infection and the consequent fatality rate,” Associate Professor Rait said.
“The unfortunate lessons of history are such while it’s all very well to believe things are contained in the context of viral outbreaks, often things behave very differently.”
This morning, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews decided there would be no spectators at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne due to concerns about coronavirus.
In addition to the Grand Prix crowd cancellation, Australia’s One Day International series against New Zealand will be played behind closed doors.
Cricket Australia announced that two matches would be played in an empty Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday and Sunday, with a third match scheduled for next Friday at Hobart’s Blundstone Arena.
The World Cup-winning women’s team have had their South Africa tour suspended.
So what should Canberrans do?
Dr Di Dio has urged “social distancing” wherever possible.
“It might be a few days early, but it’s still the right time to avoid social interaction as much as possible,” he said.
“It is another level. It is true that being cautious early, and sensible early, might be interpreted as causing panic, but it’s also bloody sensible.”
However, the ACT Health Directorate is still advising that only those who have returned to Australia from mainland China, Iran, Italy and South Korea, or those who have been in close contact with a person who has been confirmed with COVID-19, should self-quarantine.
If you fit this criteria, the preferred walk-in centre for assessment is in Weston Creek, and you should “ensure you use a mask and hand sanitiser available at the front door”.
The man was tested at the Weston Creek Walk-in Centre in Canberra’s south. (Supplied: ACT Health)
The consistent message is that “focusing on good hygiene practices, especially hand hygiene, will reduce your risk of getting sick and help to prevent the spread of germs”.
People should also avoid touching their face, particularly their mouth and eyes.
The ACT Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerryn Coleman, said that “now is the time for us to remain calm and come together in the community”.
“We have been practising and preparing for this for many weeks now,” she said.
“I can reassure everyone that the hospital and our health staff are very well prepared for this.
“We are taking all necessary precautions to ensure the ongoing safety of staff and patients.”
ACT records first COVID-19 case
The AMA ACT’s recommendation to avoid public events comes after Canberra recorded its first case of coronavirus yesterday.
In a press conference yesterday morning, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the man with COVID-19, in his 30s, became unwell on Tuesday, and returned a positive result to tests on Thursday morning.
He had not been overseas in the past fortnight, but had travelled interstate.
“I regret to inform Canberrans that we have our first case of COVID-19 in the territory,” Mr Barr said.
“We were, of course, expecting COVID-19 to come to the territory, and following this confirmation now every state and territory in Australia has a confirmed case.
“We are expecting more in the coming weeks.”
On radio this morning, Ms Stephen-Smith confirmed that “all of the close contacts of that person were tracked down yesterday and are either self-isolating or being tested as required, so we don’t have that community transmission”.
Dr Coleman also reiterated that “the community can be reassured that there is no risk to the general community from this case and people should go about their daily lives as normal”.
There are also two confirmed COVID-19 cases from people who have travelled through the ACT.
An attendee to a university conference held at the National Convention Centre between February 25-27 in Canberra tested positive to coronavirus once they returned to their home state.
“Health authorities have carried out extensive investigations into the source of the infection but have, as yet, been unable to identify the source of the infection [of the attendee],” Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said in a statement.
“Now, in line with the advice of ACT Health, we have emailed all delegates and asked them to be alert for any of the symptoms of COVID-19 and supplied health information and contact details.”
An ADF member, who travelled to Canberra on February 28 to attend a meeting at Defence Headquarters in Russell, also tested positive to coronavirus after returning home.