Australia has its eighth coronavirus fatality, with the death of a woman from the Ruby Princess cruise ship that docked in Sydney last week.
The woman, aged in her 70s, died in a NSW hospital on Tuesday morning.
“This patient was one of the three initial passengers who were confirmed to be COVID-19 positive following testing of retained specimens from on board the Ruby Princess,” NSW Health said on Tuesday afternoon.
There are now confirmed 107 diagnosed COVID-19 cases in NSW from the ship, which docked in Sydney last Thursday. There are a further 26 cases interstate from people who were on board, bringing the total number of infections from the Ruby Princess to 133.
NSW is at a “critical” stage as the number of COVID-19 cases soars past 800, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian warning people who ignore social distancing rules will receive harsh penalties.
“We don’t want to go down the path that other nations have gone down,” she said.
The latest death came as Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein banned non-essential visitors from entering the state via the Spirit of Tasmania ferry in tightened coronavirus measures.
“Do not come. We will turn you around and ask you to go back,” he said on Tuesday.
In WA, where the MSC Magnifica refuelled at Fremantle early on Tuesday, Australian Border Force and WA Police officers were there to ensure no one disembarked before the ship left for Dubai later in the day.
Premier Mark McGowan said at least 250 of the Magnifica’s more than 1700 passengers had upper respiratory problems.
- Related: WA cruise ship waits to dock
Both ships berthed after federal Health Minister Greg Hunt issued an emergency biosecurity order on March 18 preventing cruise vessels from docking in Australia for a month.
There were 13 passenger cruise ships still at sea at the time.
Of those, the Voyager of the Seas and the Ovation of the Seas docked on March 18, the Ruby Princess on March 19, and the Celebrity Solstice docked on March 20.
Telehealth access for all Australians
Meanwhile, Mr Hunt said on Tuesday that Australians will be able to bulk-bill phone or video hook-ups with GPs, specialists, mental health and allied health professionals from next week as health authorities work to contain the rapid spread of the coronavirus.
“That is an extremely important development,” he said.
Currently, only vulnerable Australians – including like older people or those with compromised immune systems – are eligible to bulk-bill Telehealth.
“This has been one of the most significant changes we’ve seen in Australian general practice in my working lifetime of 35 years,” Australia’s principal medical adviser Michael Kidd said.
The federal government has expanded telehealth services to allow vulnerable GPs to provide services from home.
AMA president Tony Bartone welcomed the changes for GPs, saying they would keep both patients and doctors safe.
“We’re still going to need to see those patients in a face-to-face environment,” Dr Bartone told Nine News. “We can’t replace everything through a video chat or through a phone call.”
Victoria’s first day of lockdown
Two Victorians being treated for coronavirus are in intensive care, after 64 cases were diagnosed overnight. Six cases are believed to have been acquired through community transmission.
Tuesday’s increased tally came as government schools were closed, courts were empty and most of the Victorian hospitality industry was crumbling on the second day of the state’s shutdown. A 500-strong police taskforce has also been set up to manage the shutdown.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the measures were tough, but were necessary to curb the spread of the deadly illness.
“People have got to step up and take this seriously otherwise we’re going to finish up in a really difficult situation and frankly, if people don’t want to take my word for it, turn your TV on – have a look at Italy, have a look at Spain, have a look at France,” Mr Andrews told Triple M Melbourne on Tuesday.
Queensland border control in place
The state will close its borders from midnight Wednesday o people not travelling for work, medical appointments or carrying freight.
Details of the closure came as Queensland recorded another 78 cases of coronavirus.
Border travel will be policed in an RBT-style with officers to determine who needs to cross.
Travelling across the NSW border from Tweed to Coolangatta for work is allowed. Travel to work, the supermarket, the pharmacy and to get petrol is classed as essential.
“People should stay in their own state,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said on Tuesday.
A $4 billion package has also been announced to cover the state’s additional health needs and relieve financial pressure on households and businesses. It includes $1.2 billion to immediately double Queensland’s intensive care capacity, triple its emergency department capacity and provide more paramedics.
Coronavirus survived on surfaces for 17 days
Meanwhile, the US’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the coronavirus continued to survive for 17 days on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship that quarantined in Japan last month.
The virus “was identified on a variety of surfaces in cabins of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected passengers up to 17 days after cabins were vacated on the Diamond Princess but before disinfection procedures had been conducted,” the researchers wrote, adding that the finding doesn’t necessarily mean the virus spread by surface.
Australia’s total number of coronavirus cases:
As of Tuesday morning, there were 1823 cases of the coronavirus. There have been eight fatalities: Seven in NSW and one in WA.
According to Department of Health, these are the latest statistics for confirmed cases in a breakdown state-by-state:
- Australian Capital Territory 32
- New South Wales 818
- Northern Territory 4
- Queensland 319
- South Australia 134
- Tasmania 21
- Victoria 355
- Western Australia 140