More than 600 nurses have been stood down in the midst of the worst health crisis facing Australia in a century.
The NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association (NSWNMA) said more than 600 private hospital nurses have been stood down over the past 24 hours, casualties of the Federal Government’s “bungled” ban on non-urgent elective surgery during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Nurses employed by Healthe Care, the third largest private hospital operator in the state, behind Ramsay Health Care and Healthscope, were notified by letter that they would not have work for the next four weeks the union said.
“We’ve now got a situation where more than 600 nurses are being forced to take accrued leave, or are scrambling to find another job elsewhere, before needing to join the queue for benefits,” NSWNMA General Secretary Brett Holmes said.
Nurses at Forster Private Hospital on the Mid North Coast have been stood down and also nurses at Hirondelle Private Hospital at Chatswood on Sydney’s Lower North Shore, he said.
“With little time to negotiate logistics around the distribution of any resources to the public hospital sector, private hospital employers have taken the drastic step of laying off their highly skilled, lifesaving workforce in the middle of a global health crisis. It’s unspeakable,” he said.
“We are calling on the Federal Government to fix the mess it has made, there needs to be a sustainable plan to maintain the private hospital system capacity, so they can work continuously and support public hospitals in response to the evolving COVID-19 crisis.”
Australians returning from overseas from midnight tomorrow will be quarantined in hotels and other accommodation facilities to enforce the 14-day self-isolation period.
With some travellers still making their way home from other countries, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the measure was crucial to prevent further spread of the virus from overseas.
The national cabinet agreed this afternoon on the extraordinary measure, which will be policed by state governments.
The Prime Minister showed the card Australians have to fill out when they return home and warned of penalties if they don’t comply with isolation rules.
He said states and territories will be quarantining all arrivals through airports in hotels and other accommodation facilities for the two weeks of their mandatory self-isolation before they are able to go home.
“If their home is in South Australia or in Perth or in Tasmania and they have arrived in Melbourne, they will be quarantining in Melbourne. If it’s in Sydney, it will be if Sydney. If it’s Brisbane, and so on,” he said.
Defence Force members will also be deployed to assist in new regime.
Mr Morrison said the country was in “two fights” – the health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus.
“Both will take lives. Both will take livelihoods,” he said.
“No decision that we’re taking on the health front that has these terrible economic impacts is being taken lightly.”
“Every day that someone is in a job, for just another day, is a day worth fighting for.”
Mr Morrison thanked Australians for how they had responded so far to the “significant changes” made to people’s lives.
He said the movement of people in Sydney and Melbourne had fallen by 80 per cent over the last two weeks.
“Keep doing it – you’re saving lives and you’re saving livelihoods,” he said.
“We might have to keep our distance but we don’t have to disconnect from each other … No Australian should have to go through this alone.”
“This weekend, the challenge will be there again. Let’s keep saving lives, let’s keep saving livelihoods.”
He said he would rather be in Australia now “with the way we are dealing with this together” than anywhere else.
“I promise you we will be doing more,” he said.
“We will not take these decisions lightly. We will not take them for a matter of convenience.
“Because every decision we are taking has very real personal impacts.”
Mr Morrison said the national cabinet was also briefed about the economic impact of the virus.
He said he and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg would have “more to say” in coming days about the third phase of the government’s economic response.
This is expected to focus on helping businesses to “hibernate” through the next six months when they are forced to close.
“This will be a very innovative approach,” Mr Morrison said.
“We want those businesses to start again.”
He said the package was designed to reduce the weight of debts and liabilities on businesses during the crisis.
“That will include support by states and territories on managing the very difficult issue of commercial tenancies,” Mr Morrison said.
He added states will make their own arrangements with schools between now and the end of term.
“At the end of the say it needs to be sorted out in each state and territory,” he said.
On childcare, he said they are working on a plan to deal with the premises around the country. “They are an essential part of keeping the economy running for those who are still part of it and for those who are still going to work,” he said.
ISOLATED AUSSIES GIVEN MEDICATION LIFELINE
Islolated Aussie’s will soon be able to get medication delivered to their door under a new partnership between Australia Post and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.
From Monday, the Pharmacy Home Delivery Service will be rolled out nation-wide to help the country’s most vulnerable through the coronavirus crisis.
The service will allow chemists to offer free drop-offs to customers who are self-isolating due to COVID-19 and those over the age of 70 who are considered at-risk.
It will only apply for prescription medication and other essential items and is limited to one delivery per month.
The announcement comes after the national government allocated $25 million to fund home
medicine amid the coronavirus pandemic.
AusPost CEO, Christine Holgate, said the move was essential in the current climate.
“We know so many people rely on their local pharmacy for essential medication, particularly the vulnerable and elderly who may not be able to visit their local store. Making delivery to people’s home is critical at this time,” Ms Holgate says.
SHRIMP SELLER LINKED TO COVID-19
A shrimp seller at the infamous wet market in Wuhan where coronavirus is said to have started has been revealed as one of the first infected.
Wei Guixian said she started to feel sick on December 10 and visited a small local clinic believing she had a cold before returning to market to serve customers.
“I felt a bit tired, but not as tired as previous years,” she told Chinese news outlet The Paper.
“Every winter, I always suffer from the flu. So I thought it was the flu.”
Eight days later she was critically ill in hospital becoming one of the first confirmed cases in a pandemic which has swept the world killing over 22,000 and infecting nearly half a million.
Ms Wei, who has recovered after leaving hospital in early January, believes she might have become infected via a toilet in the market she shared with wild meat sellers.
She says vendors on either side of her also contracted COVID-19 as well as others in her family including one of her daughters and niece.
Doctors finally quarantined her in late-December after establishing the link between the crippling respiratory illness and the Hua’nan market.
The Chinese government did not publicly confirm the outbreak until January 9 after allowing a New Year celebration banquet in Wuhan to go ahead.
Ms Wei said if authorities had acted sooner “a lot fewer people would have died.”
The mysterious ‘Patient Zero’ remains a mystery although according to the government of Wuhan the first confirmed case was a person surnamed Chen who began showing symptoms on December 8.
Chen, who has fully recovered, denied visiting the wet market.
Theories around the outbreak include the virus originating in a bat before jumping to human via a wild animal, either living or dead, sold at Hua’nan.
Experts who have studied the data believe the killer bug could have jumped from a creature to a person as early as October or November.
What is known, is that by the second week of December several workers at the wet market were showing symptoms including fever, aching limbs and coughing.
US CASES OVERTAKE CHINA
America has reached a grim milestone as the number of deaths linked to coronavirus passed 1000, taking the total number of cases to more than 82,000 — overtaking those in China.
The numbers, collated by John Hopkins University in the US, also show the reported deaths associated with the disease in the US was at least 1050.
It comes as global cases passed 500,000 and China closed its borders to foreign nationals to prevent a resurgence of the deadly pandemic.
The situation in New York, which is now the epicentre of the virus in the US, is at breaking point, as the death toll rose to 385 (as of Thursday midday, local time) with more than 37,000 cases confirmed in New York, an increase of more than 7000 over a 24-hour period.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the number of people infected in the city could be as many as four million of New York’s eight million inhabitants.
Fiorello “Fred” Santoro, 83, a former Bronx homicide detective, told News Corp Australia that he had “never known anything like it”.
“I’ve seen a lot of things, but this is worse than 9/11, worse than Hurricane Sandy,” Mr Santoro, a native New Yorker, said. “It’s bad, really bad. And de Blasio is a moron. But Cuomo’s been great.
Mr Santoro’s sentiments echoed those of many New Yorkers who have slammed the performance of Democratic mayor, Bill de Blasio, during the crisis, praising instead Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has become the face of the crisis in the struggling city.
“As upsetting as it is to be in New York right now, I’m thankful we have a real leader in Andrew Cuomo who is doing his f***ing job,” New Yorker Sean Singer told News Corp Australia. “He’s at the frontline and he’s making decisions for us and letting us know what’s going on. Where’s de Blasio?”
MILLIONS OUT OF WORK IN THE US
Meanwhile, nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week – more than quadruple the previous record set in 1982 – amid a widespread economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus.
The surge in weekly applications was a stunning reflection of the damage the viral outbreak is doing to the economy. Filings for unemployment aid generally reflect the pace of lay-offs.
The pace of lay-offs is sure to accelerate as the US economy sinks into a recession. Revenue has collapsed at restaurants, hotels, movie theatres, gyms, and airlines. Auto sales are plummeting, and car makers have close factories. Most such employers face loan payments and other fixed costs, so they’re cutting jobs to save money.
As job losses mount, some economists say America’s unemployment rate could approach 13 per cent by May. By comparison, the highest jobless rate during the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, was 10 per cent.
The economic deterioration has been swift. As recently as February, the unemployment rate was at a 50-year low of 3.5 per cent. And the economy was growing steadily if modestly. Yet by the April-June quarter of the year, some economists think the economy will shrink at its steepest annual pace ever – a contraction that could reach 30 per cent.
Many people who have lost jobs in recent days have been unable to file for unemployment aid because state websites and phone systems have been overwhelmed by a crush of applicants and have frozen up. That logjam suggests that Thursday’s report on filings for unemployment benefits actually understates the magnitude of job cuts last week.
With layoffs surging, a significant expansion of unemployment benefits for the millions who will lose jobs as a result of the coronavirus outbreak was included in an economic relief bill which passed through Congress and goes to the House for final approval.
One provision in the bill would provide an extra US$600 ($A1000) a week on top of the unemployment aid that states provide. Another would extend 13 additional weeks of benefits beyond the six months of jobless aid that most states offer.
Separate legislation passed last week provides up to US$1 billion ($A1.65 billion) to states to enhance their ability to process claims. But that money will take time to be disbursed.
The bill, expected to top $2 trillion ($A3.3 trillion), also bails out businesses, hospitals and local governments.
The package authorises US$1200 ($A2000) cheques for all adults who earn up to $US75,000 ($A125,000) and creates enormous loan programs for businesses.
A generous boost of US$600 ($A1000) per week in unemployment pay led to a final road bump when a group of Republicans sought unsuccessfully to change the bill so the unemployed could not get more than 100 per cent of their prior pay.
The package creates a $500 billion loan program run by the Treasury Department to assist businesses struggling to stay afloat. Loans to President Donald Trump’s businesses and those of members of Congress, other officials and their families are banned.
CHINA CLOSES BORDERS
It comes as China closed its borders to foreign nationals to prevent a resurgence of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, reports the New York Post.
The move signals an attempt by officials in China, the point of origin of the worldwide coronavirus outbreak, to avoid having foreigners with visas or residency permits reintroduce the deadly bug into the Asian nation, just as cases there wane, Axios.com reported Thursday.
“The suspension is a temporary measure that China is compelled to take in light of the outbreak situation and the practices of other countries,” the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement, Axios reported.
“China will stay in close touch with all sides and properly handle personnel exchanges with the rest of the world under the special circumstances,” the statement said. “The abovementioned measures will be calibrated in light of the evolving situation and announced accordingly.”
In January, Chinese officials suspended all travel in and out of Hubei province, home to Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated. The move grounded the nearly 60 million people who call the province home.
But on March 19, health officials reported no new cases in a 24-hour period for the first time since the outbreak began. While China still leads the globe with more than 81,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, the number of cases there has since levelled off.
The country has also been critical of the way the pandemic has been handled by other countries, primarily the US.
“The US is the most developed country in the world, with leading medical technologies and top-class healthcare professionals,” the Chinese newspaper Global Times said in an editorial Thursday.
“But it has missed the best timing to contain COVID-19 due to the Trump administration’s slow move, driven by political reasons.”
In a Twitter post, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Hu Xijin, took another swipe at the US.
“The US government has made three mistakes,” Xijin wrote. “1, Slow response, which led to the US likely becoming the new epicentre. 2, Not assuming responsibility as a superpower; giving no substantial aid to allies such as Italy and Spain. 3, Undermining global security.”
Nonetheless, China also came under fire earlier this week when it was revealed that the country donated less than 3 per cent to the World Health Organization’s $675 million coronavirus fundraising drive.
A senior White House official called that “shocking and a disgrace.”
STRANDED AUSSIES GETTING A LIFELINE HOME
Hundreds of Australians stranded in South America due to the coronavirus pandemic could be flown home within days.
More than 260 Australian nationals and permanent residents are expected to be on a fully booked commercial charter flight scheduled to depart Lima, Peru, within days, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.
The flight is subject to final approval to depart by Peruvian authorities. Another flight is expected to leave Montevideo in Uruguay in coming days with Australians from the Ocean Atlantic cruise ship and any others in the area who want to come home.
“Further facilitated flights are already being planned for Australians in South America, due to particular challenges with transport out of the region,” Mr McCormack and Senator Payne said in a joint statement just after midnight on Thursday.
“Australian embassies in Lima and Buenos Aires are working with local authorities in Peru and Uruguay to ensure all arrangements are in place for the flights to Australia, which has required careful and consistent negotiation.” They said the government was supporting the flights after discussions with Australian travel company Chimu Adventures, which will manage the charter operations out of Lima, Montevideo and Cusco.
The government had provided vital assurances to make the flights happen, including indemnity and underwriting unforeseen costs.
“As the Government stated yesterday, we understand many Australians overseas face great difficulty getting home,” the statement said.
“We have agreed to consider, on a case-by-case basis, supporting commercial airlines to operate non-scheduled services to less central locations for Australians.” Australians who can travel home by commercial means are urged to do so as soon as possible.
More than 3000 Australians are stuck on board cruise ships across the globe, with more than 30 vessels scattered off South America, Europe, the United States and further afield.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has had more than 18,500 requests for assistance from Australians stranded overseas since March 13. Australians have now been banned from travelling overseas as authorities try to contain the coronavirus.
ARMANI TO MAKE OVERALLS FOR HOSPITAL WORKERS
Iconic Italian fashion brand Armani said on Thursday it would start making single use medical overalls for hospital workers at all its Italian factories.
The group – whose brands include Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani – said they would be used for “the individual protection of healthcare workers engaged in the fight against the coronavirus disease.” Founder Giorgio Armani has donated 2 million euros ($A3.65 million) in recent weeks to hospitals around Italy, including Bergamo and Piacenza in the hard-hit north, the company said.
It was not immediately clear how many factories the company operates in Italy. Like many other fashion brands, Armani has in recent years moved much of its production out of Italy to other countries where labour costs are lower.
WORLD LEADERS UNITE TO FIGHT VIRUS
World leaders on Thursday promised $US5 trillion ($A9 trillion) to stave off global economic collapse from the coronavirus pandemic that has killed 21,000 people and shut down huge swathes of the globe.
From New York to Paris to New Delhi life has ground to standstill with some three billion people confined to their homes as governments scramble to halt the disease’s deadly march across the world.
The death toll spiralled upward again in Europe, as fatalities in the United States shot past 1000 and cases in Africa continued to multiply, and already-stretched healthcare systems readied for the worst.
Fears are mounting the virus could cause an even greater shock than the Great Depression, with the latest unemployment figures out of the US breaking records as businesses across the world’s biggest economy are pinched by the pandemic.
Leaders from the G20 most industrialised nations held crisis talks by video link on Thursday (local time), pledging a “united front” to fight the outbreak — along with an enormous financial injection to prop up the economy.
“The virus respects no borders,” the leaders said in a statement. “We are injecting over $5 trillion into the global economy, as part of targeted fiscal policy, economic measures, and guarantee schemes to counteract the social, economic and financial impacts of the pandemic.” They also pledged “robust” support for developing nations, where it is feared coronavirus could next take hold after ravaging China and then Europe.
But the unity pledged by the G20 has been in short supply with China and the United States trading barbs over their handling of the coronavirus crisis.
The outbreak first emerged in China late last year but has spread relentlessly. Globally, infections are nearing half a million worldwide.
Europe is now the hardest hit continent, clocking over 250,000 infections and more than 15,000 deaths.
VIRUS COULD PUSH AUSSIE HOSPITALS TO BREAKING POINT
By Thursday next week Australia’s hospital system could be unable to cope with the COVID-19 outbreak and the death rate from the virus will soar, Macquarie University modelling shows.
It comes as a cruise ship passenger in his 70s died of COVID-19 in Western Australia, taking the national coronavirus toll to 13 on Thursday afternoon.
Two researchers Hamish Meares and Michael Jones modelled what would happen in a standard Australian hospital that saw an increase of 20 COVID-19 patients a day with just one of those patients requiring admission to an intensive care bed.
Each patient that required an intensive care bed would be in hospital for at least 10 days.
“Australia’s ICU capacity will be exceeded at around 22,000 COVID-19 cases sometime around the 5 April, 2020,” the authors say in a paper published online in the Medical Journal of Australia.
“Other sources have suggested that Australia could cope with up to 44,580 COVID-19 cases, but even if this is true it only grants a three-day extension to the 8 April, 2020,” the paper said.
Under the scenario a single hospital requires 31 ICU beds on Day 7, and almost 200 on Day 14.
When there are not enough intensive care beds to deal with demand the death rate from the virus will soar.
“We found the mortality rate among hospitalised averaged 8.8 per cent from Day 1 to Day 14 and was essentially steady but from Day 15, the mortality rate dramatically rises with an average mortality of 22.7 per cent from Day 15 onwards,” the study said.
“These data imply that the eventual mortality rate of COVID-19 may be much higher than currently estimated because once the system reaches breaking point and there are insufficient ICU beds, mortality rises dramatically,” the authors say.
The researchers say while the inputs into their model can be debated, “it does appear to represent a realistic clinical scenario, is consistent with international data and suggests the conclusion that the impending demand for ICU beds could overwhelm capacity in even the largest Australian hospitals in the near future”.
“Australia must immediately take all available measures to rapidly decrease the rate of new cases and radically increase the number of ICU beds otherwise we may face the same fate as Italy, or worse,” they said.
THE BACHELOR AUSTRALIA HALTED
Production on The Bachelor Australia has been suspended due to COVID-19.
Channel 10 and production company Warner Bros made the decision “after considering all available options”.
“Although we have been employing extra precautions on set for some time, it is no longer practical to continue with production,” a statement read.
“The health and safety of our participants and crew members is our number one priority. These are extremely difficult times for all Australians and for our industry, and the full extent of those difficulties will not be known for some time to come.”
Production will resume as soon as it is safe to do so.
“While this decision is disappointing, we remain committed to keeping our audiences entertained and connected in these challenging times,” the statement continued.
“We are also committed to ensuring the television industry remains in as strong a shape as possible so we can continue to bring Australian viewers local content.”
DRONES COULD HELP DETECT THE INFECTED
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 team, led by Defence Chair of Sensor Systems Professor Javaan Chahl have previously invented drones that uses a computer vision system which can distinguish survivors from deceased bodies on battlefields in Afghanistan from four to eight 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 rate.
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 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 five to 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.
DYSON ANSWERS CALL FOR RESPIRATORS
Sir James Dyson has announced plans for his firm to produce and supply battery-powered respirators specifically designed to treat patients with COVID-19, after a plea from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
The veteran tech innovator said he had instructed his engineers to work with The Technology Partnership after a government request 10 days ago and had already designed a respirator called CoVent to meet growing needs for the lifesaving devices.
The medical device will feature the Dyson Digital motor better known for its use in vacuum cleaners and is designed to be portable, bed-mounted, battery-powered and used without a fixed air supply.
“This new device can be manufactured quickly, efficiently and at volume,” he said.
“It is designed to address the specific clinical needs of COVID-19 patients and it is suited to a variety of clinical settings.
“The core challenge was how to design and deliver a new, sophisticated medical product in volume and in an extremely short space of time. The race is now on to get it into production.”
Dyson and TTP are now seeking urgent approval for the respirator to be used in clinical settings by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and will require similar approvals overseas.
Sir James said the company had received an order for 10,000 units from the UK Government but was “also looking at ways of making it available internationally”.
He pledged to donate 5000 of the CoVent respirators, including 1000 to the UK.