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Pop up clinics and bulk billing phone hook ups with GPs


Free phone consultations with GPs and pop-up clinics to help hospitals handle demand will form part of the government’s $2.4 billion coronavirus response.

It comes as Health Minister Greg Hunt says more than half of Australia’s 100 cases had recovered and it was unlikely people could be infected twice.

The government released its response package on Tuesday night, promising further measures were on the way.

It will establish 100 pop-up clinics across Australia to divert people who may be infected away from hospitals.

From Friday, Australians will be able to completely bulk-bill phone hook-ups with GPs to diagnose coronavirus symptoms.

Mr Hunt said it won’t be necessary to introduce a countrywide travel ban like in Italy, although Qantas has slashed flights by nearly one quarter and more temporary schools closures are likely.

The government would also be reviewing its travel advice to Italy where more than 9000 people have contracted COVID-19 and 460 have died, Mr Hunt said on Tuesday.

There are an estimated 114,000 cases in 107 countries across the world, with 1000 recorded deaths.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said it was highly unlikely people could catch the virus more than once.

“I think that’s a very important message to Australians,” Mr Hunt added.

“So now is the moment of pressure … this is a once-in-50-year challenge that we face.”

Three Australians have died from coronavirus, with states and territories setting up specialist clinics as the government looks to combine information into a smartphone app.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has followed US authorities in advising citizens, especially those with underlying health concerns, to reconsider taking an overseas cruise as the outbreak continues to spread.

Prof Murphy said there had been some confusion about who needed to be tested, saying it was only returned travellers from overseas with symptoms like a cough or sore throat.

Three schools in NSW and Victoria shut on Tuesday after three students tested positive to COVID-19, with similar temporary closures likely.

“School closures, I think, will become the norm as we go ahead but we are doing everything we can to keep our children safe,” federal Education Minister Dan Tehan told Nine’s Today program.

The minister was asked why schools were being closed for a day or two, while people with or suspected of having the virus are being told to self-isolate for two weeks.

“The schools have been closed for a day so they can be thoroughly cleaned,” he replied.

Sydney is the worst-hit city.

On Tuesday, six more people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in NSW, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 61.

NSW Health said one of the new patients, a woman in her 30s, is a relative of a Sydney aged care facility resident who died from coronavirus. The department has also contacted students and teachers from a Sydney TAFE class after it was discovered an infected person attended for two days while potentially infectious.

Meanwhile Qantas has slashed the capacity of its international flights by almost one quarter for the next six months due to the virus’ impact, a decision that will ground 38 planes.

The government in coming days is expected to announce private sector involvement in providing pathology services and new advice on the testing of healthcare workers.

PLAN TO TACKLE CORONAVIRUS OVERALL

• $2.4 billion to deal with health impacts.

• Medicare item so health services can be delivered by audio or video to people with symptoms at home

• Respiratory clinics

• National communications campaign.

FEVER CLINICS

• Up to 100 ‘pop-up respiratory clinics’ set up across Australia at a cost of $205 million to test those concerned they may be sick

• Will divert people with mild or moderate symptoms away from emergency departments and GPs.

• Clinics staffed by doctors and nurses will be able to see up to 75 patients a day over six months.

MEDICARE ITEM

• A new item will be created at a cost of $100 million, so people at home in self-isolation and quarantine can access health services and reduce the risk of exposure to others. Will start Friday and be fully bulk-billed

• If someone has a chronic disease, like a lung condition, and is at risk if they contracted the virus, they could consult their GP via Skype or FaceTime

COMMUNICATIONS CAMPAIGN

• $30 million campaign to start this week, using television, radio, print, digital, social media, public transport, shopping centres and doctors’ waiting rooms.



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