1.5m to catch virus in NSW as local cases match imports
One in five NSW people will catch COVID-19 - and that is only "if all goes well", infectious disease experts say.
The worst-case scenario is that half the population comes down with the virus, University of Sydney Professor Robert Booy said. In the best-case scenario of just 20 per cent getting COVID-19, that still equates to 1.5 million NSW people.
"The least we could hope for is 20 per cent, people are predicting as much as 50 per cent to 60 per cent and we need to do as much as we can by way of mitigation to protect our vulnerable population," Prof Booy said. "If we have only 0.1 per cent death rate, that is 1500 for NSW, so that to me looks like the best-case scenario."
If the virus cannot be contained many people will require hospitalisation, University of NSW School Of Public Health and Community Medicine Associate Professor Dr James Wood said. "As a comparison with the 1919 flu pandemic, about 40 per cent of people in Sydney got it and that is the worst-case scenario," Dr Wood said.
"China has contained it, their total number is 80,000 but it is a small fraction of their population. If we can't contain it, we expect a sizeable proportion to get it."
Based on information from other Chinese provinces that were more prepared and had time to identify cases, similar to Australia's position, "somewhere between 1 per cent and 10 per cent will need hospitalisation", Dr Wood said.
Slowing the peak and spreading out those expected cases is the key to not overwhelming the health system. The so-called "flatten the curve" approach uses school closures, quarantines and banning public events to slow the pandemic. "The more we spread out those cases, the better we can deal with it," Dr Wood said.
LOCAL CASES MATCH INFECTION IMPORTS
The spread of coronavirus within NSW is now on par with the rate at which overseas travel is bringing the deadly disease into our state.
The revelations came as the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a pandemic, with the spike in NSW cases threatening the future of large public events.
NSW Health confirmed 13 new cases on Thursday, including eight with no history of overseas travel. One, a 19-year-old woman, is a healthcare worker at Ryde Hospital who had contact with a previous case. Four more cases were people who had recently returned from overseas including Italy, the UK and Malaysia.
One new case is a barista at Pastadelli, on Railway Ave in Wahroonga. The barista worked a number of the shifts at the cafe since February 19, but NSW Health said customers did not need to self-isolate unless they had coronavirus symptoms.
Of the 140 confirmed coronavirus cases in Australia, 78 are in NSW - 34 of whom were returned overseas travellers. A Canberra man in his 30s yesterday became the ACT's first coronavirus case.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said that, as the number of cases grew, the government was considering any way to boost testing measures.
"The NSW government is looking at all options to increase the availability of testing, whether that is a drive-through or offering transport for people who need to get to testing but are limited by disability or mobility issues," he said. "At this stage the number of community transmissions has about equalled the number of cases imported from overseas so it's critical to expand opportunities for testing."
NSW Chief Medical Officer Dr Kerry Chant revealed the state could have "drive-through coronavirus testing" stations starting within a week. At a NSW parliamentary hearing yesterday, Dr Chant said anyone returning from overseas should avoid public events and family gatherings for 14 days. She said the state was working to double the capacity of intensive care units in preparation for a worsening coronavirus outbreak.
"We have given a target at the moment to plan for doubling of ICU capacity and ventilator capacity." NSW currently has a total capacity of 1000 ICU beds - almost half of the total number in Australia.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian will use a Council of Australian Governments meeting in Sydney on Friday to ask the federal government if the state should introduce more widespread school closures and event shutdowns to limit the spread of the virus.
"Certainly those matters will be discussed," she said. "If there are further measures we have to undertake, we will."
The government is also considering cancelling the annual Sydney Royal Easter Show. "Without causing any unnecessary alarm I will say we do need to consider those issues," Ms Berejiklian said.
"If you do attend those mass gatherings we ask you to be aware of space, hygiene and your own activity to make sure you don't contract or infect someone else."
Ms Berejiklian said anyone who was unwell and had recently been overseas should avoid major gatherings such as NRL games. "We will review our policy in relation to major events and major places of gathering."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said people should "follow health advice," which did not recommend avoiding large public events. "I'm going to the footy this weekend," he said. "I'm sure many Australians would, and I encourage you to, unless you're ill and … you're in self-isolation for medical reasons or you're actually ill, then I wouldn't suggest you go. But the health advice is not for that to happen at this point."
NSW Health has updated its advice to anyone who has travelled anywhere overseas in the last two weeks to monitor for symptoms.
EUROPEAN TRAVEL BAN ON HORIZON
All European visitors could be blocked from entering Australia as health officials consider a total travel ban as a drastic step to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
The measure was referred to Australia's chief medics for consideration by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday after the US imposed its own restrictions on European travellers.
The Australian Health Protection Principle Committee, chaired by Professor Brendan Murphy, could make a recommendation to the government's National Security Committee as early as today, with a public announcement to follow.
The Daily Telegraph understands the potential ban would mirror the one announced by US President Donald Trump, which applied to the 26 countries that make up the European Union's Schengen Area but does not include the UK.
If implemented it would mean all non-Australian citizens or permanent residents travelling from anywhere in Europe would not be allowed into the country.
Australians returning from the region would have to self-isolate at home for 14 days to ensure they are not incubating the coronavirus. But chief medical officers have previously advised against widespread travel bans, stating earlier this month that "border measures can no longer prevent importation of COVID-19".
Current travel advice for the majority of European countries remains at "exercise normal precautions".Only places with large outbreaks, including France, Italy and Russia, carry cautionary alerts on the Smartraveller website.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the referral was driven by an "abundance of caution" following the US decision. "Every day, (health officials) are focusing on all of the developments around the world," he said.
$17.6b CASH BOOST FOR WELFARE RECIPIENTS
The state's 800,000 age pensioners and nearly 200,000 dole recipients will each get $750 as part of a $4.8 billion cash giveaway that economists say might keep Australia out of a looming coronavirus-induced recession. Veterans and those who get family tax benefits are also in line for the one-off payment which headlined the much-awaited $17.6 billion stimulus package unveiled by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Thursday.
The bonuses are set to hit bank accounts from the end of the month - timing that Nomura senior economist Andrew Ticehurst suggested was all about getting the second quarter of 2020 off to a flyer. "We are operating in a fluid and uncertain environment, but our take at this stage is that this should materially reduce, though perhaps not entirely eliminate, the possibility of recession over the first half of this year," Mr Ticehurst said.
CBA senior economist Gareth Aird said that if half the money gets spent, the stimulus "looks large enough to fend off a technical recession", which is two quarters of economic contraction in a row. "That alone will provide a boost to household and business confidence which is clearly rattled at the moment," Mr Aird said.
The government has also earmarked $1 billion to help tourism regions severely affected by the slump in visitors as well as exporters trying to find alternative markets due to trade restrictions.
Add in the $11.9 billion to bolster businesses and the measures were a "significant investment", the PM said.
"The cash payment works together with the cashflow support that we're putting in to small businesses and that in turn supports jobs, which means people can continue to participate positively in the economy and have greater confidence going forward," Mr Morrison said.
The Treasurer said the boost to growth in the second quarter could be as much as 1.5 per cent.