Good evening, and welcome to our daily roundup of the latest developments on the coronavirus pandemic in Australia. This is Melissa Davey bringing you the main stories on Wednesday 1 April.
National death toll reaches 21
Western New South Wales local health district said a person admitted to Orange base hospital with Covid-19 died on Wednesday after suffering complications due to the virus.
At the request of the family, a district spokeswoman said no further details would be provided. It takes the NSW death toll to 10 and the national toll to 21. Earlier on Wednesday, NSW Health announced that a 95-year-old woman who was a resident at the Dorothy Henderson lodge died overnight. The woman is the fifth person to die from coronavirus in the home. There are 4,860 cases in Australia.
Retired and non-practising health workers to be deployed
More than 40,000 doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists who are no longer practising or registered will be encouraged to re-enter the workforce to boost capacity to treat patients throughout the pandemic.
The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency on Friday said a short-term pandemic response sub-register would be in effect for the next year. This will be a separate and temporary register to the existing register of medical practitioners.
Only those who are properly qualified and competent will be invited to register, so practitioners who lost their registration due to malpractice will not be included. While it will be an opt-out register, no practitioner will be forced to practise and can remove themselves for any reason.
Victoria backtracks on partners visiting
On Wednesday morning Victoria’s police minister, Lisa Neville, and the premier, Daniel Andrews, both said partners who lived separately would not be allowed to visit each other under the state’s interpretation of the new restrictions on movement. But by the afternoon the chief health officer, Brett Sutton, reversed the ruling, saying Victoria had “no desire to penalise individuals who are staying with or meeting their partners if they don’t usually reside together”. Neville subsequently said the initial ban was Sutton’s idea but the change in tack made a mockery of the premier’s insistence that to comply with the new rules Victorians just needed to use “common sense”.
Queensland steps up border rules
Queensland will toughen its border shutdown laws from Friday, barring all non-residents from entering the state unless they have been granted an exception. Under the previous rules, people could cross the border provided they self-isolated for 14 days afterwards. But the police minister, Mark Ryan, said on Wednesday that the rules were set to change further.
“Anyone who is not a Queensland resident or considered exempt from the restrictions will not be able to enter Queensland from 12.01am Friday, April 3, 2020,” Ryan said in a statement reported by the Courier-Mail.
Crackdown on price-gouging and exports
The home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, said the government has amended the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations Act 1958 to stop exploitative exports of essential goods. This took effect on Tuesday.
“The minister for health has now made a determination under the Biosecurity Act 2015to enable the Australian Border Force to require that goods already in their custody be surrendered for provision to the National Medical Stockpile, or destruction if the goods are defective,” Dutton said.
The minister said the changes meant people who havepurchased essential goods at retail can not on-sell them at extortionate price, which is set at 120% of the price for which they were purchased.
People who flout these laws would also be forced to “surrender the essential goods to the Australian Federal Police for provision to the National Medical Stockpile, or destruction if the goods are defective”, Dutton said.
Modelling may not be released after all
On Monday the deputy chief medical officer, Prof Paul Kelly, said he would push the national cabinet to unlock modelling on how many Covid-19 cases may be expected in Australia, acknowledging that transparency is essential. New Zealand released a clearer picture of its modelling on Tuesday and there has been pressure on the government by some researchers and health workers to do the same.
But Kelly clarified his position on Wednesday, saying while “transparency can be a very important thing”, modelling could be easily misinterpreted.
“We need to make sure that it’s presented in a way that is useful,” he said. “The other thing I would say about modelling, and modellers themselves would also say this, modelling is not necessarily the truth. It is a way of seeing the world and potentially pointing out how one can influence certain scenarios. But if we knew the truth and could see exactly what was going to happen in the next few months exactly, then we don’t need to model.”
Charities call for help
Six of Australia’s leading international aid agencies urged the federal government to include specific measures to help charities continue their lifesaving work in Covid-19 support packages.
The organisations – Care Australia, ChildFund Australia, Oxfam Australia, Plan International Australia, Save the Children Australia and World Vision Australia – said the not-for-profit sector was facing a perfect storm of falling revenue and unprecedented demand for their services fuelled by the pandemic.
Baggage handlers test positive for Covid-19
Eleven baggage handlers at Adelaide airport have tested positive, with two further cases among family members, taking the cluster of cases associated with the Qantas staff to 13. More than 100 other people related to the cluster, either fellow workers or close contacts, are also in self-isolation.
South Australia’s deputy chief public health officer, Michael Cusack, said the outbreak had prompted a change in testing criteria. Anyone who had visited the airport in the past 14 days and who had since developed symptoms was now advised to get tested and self-isolate. But Cusack said health officials had not recommended closing the airport completely – AAP
Prime minister offers a prayer
Scott Morrison has offered a prayer for the national cabinet to stay “strong and united” as it responds to Covid-19. On 23 March Morrison called for Australians of faith to pray as parliament reconvened to pass the second tranche of fiscal support.
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