WHO upgrades COVID-19 status to “pandemic”

It is not yet clear if the Central Coast will be home to one of up to 100 private practice respiratory clinics to be established nationwide in coming months to provide dedicated services to people with mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms.

A plan to introduce the clinics is outlined in the Federal Government’s $2.4B Coronavirus National Health Plan, unveiled on March 12, to support vulnerable groups such as the elderly, those with chronic conditions and Indigenous communities, from the coronavirus (COVID-19).

The clinics are intended to reduce the risk of further transmission of COVID-19, help to optimise the use of available stocks of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and help reduce the pressure on hospital emergency departments.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has now formally upgraded the spread of the COVID-19 Virus from being an epidemic to a pandemic.

COVID-19 continues to spread globally, with a growing number of countries experiencing sustained community based transmission and outbreaks.

Across the world, there have been more than 120,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) and more than 4,200 reported deaths, as at Thursday, March 12.

In Australia, there are now 112 confirmed cases of the virus, including 60 in NSW (as of Thursday Mar 12).

Travel restrictions and self-quarantine measures implemented by the Australian Government, corporations and households appear to have been at least partially successful in slowing the spread of the virus relative to other countries.

The number of deaths in Australia has remained at just three, including two in NSW.

As part of Health Plan the government has also secured additional surgical, P2 and N95 masks for the National Medical Stockpile, for medical and aged care professionals to care for patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, also announced the National Coordination Mechanism, a process of co-ordinating the response across the Commonwealth, state and territory governments, as well as industry, to ensure a consistent national approach.

NSW Health Minister, Brad Hazzard, and Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said NSW Health has planned extensively for a pandemic.

“We are seeing quite a clear escalation of diagnoses of the virus,” Minister Hazzard said.

The Minister also said that everyone had a role to play in slowing the spread of the virus and taking pressure of the State’s medical systems.

“Simple hygiene measures like regular hand washing, sneezing into your elbow and, most importantly, staying home when sick, will not only help ease hospital presentations for flu, but also support existing COVID-19 pandemic plans,” Hazzard said.

He said businesses need to review their continuity plans now, including simple measures such as alcohol hand rub in the workplace, encouraging people to self-isolate where necessary, and using technologies that allow staff to work from home where necessary.

“We also ask everyone to please see your GP for minor illnesses and injuries where possible, to ensure that we keep our hospital emergency departments for emergencies only,” Hazzard said.

Dr Chant said the emergence of community spread of COVID-19 in multiple countries outside mainland China demonstrates how quickly the virus can pass from person to person and, because it can present as a mild disease, how preventing it’s spread can be challenging.

“We know from managing past pandemics, including influenza, that unless everyone is on board from the start, government, business and the community, it makes our task that much harder,” Dr Chant said.

“While the few COVID-19 cases in NSW to date have been mild, the global spread of the virus, coupled with flu season fast approaching, means the situation for our hospitals could change quickly, so we’re asking everyone to plan now.”

COVID-19/Flu clinics are being established within all local health districts across NSW to assess and diagnose patients with possible COVID-19 infections, and other respiratory illness such as influenza, as we approach the winter season.

NSW Health is also expanding the laboratory capacity across public hospitals and private laboratories to scale up analytical testing to determine the results of those tests.

Currently, NSW Health laboratories have capacity to perform more than 1,000 tests a day at three public hospitals at Randwick, Westmead, and Liverpool, and they will soon be joined by four more hospitals: Royal North Shore, Royal Prince Alfred, John Hunter, and Nepean.

NSW Health has engaged private pathology laboratories to assist in the collection of samples from people who require COVID-19 testing.

NSW and Australian Department of Health websites