Australian patients who have symptoms consistent with the coronavirus have been turned away from COVID-19 testing because they have not recently returned from overseas – meaning cases are going undetected.
But that could be about to change, with the nation’s deputy chief medical officer revealing on Monday night the restrictions on who will be tested are about to be relaxed.
Physician Norman Swan issued the warning about virus patients going undetected after South Australian senator Rex Patrick revealed on ABC’s Q&A program strong suspicions he was infected after being in close proximity to Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg.
The need to shift focus to community transmission was further highlighted when it was revealed Senator Bragg had attended a wedding where others were later found to have contracted the coronavirus.
Only then did he qualify for a test. His initial flu-like symptoms displayed at a Senate enquiry – where Mr Patrick believes he contracted the virus – did not make him eligible to be tested.
This forced Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly to announce that changes will soon be introduced on who can be tested so that recent travellers are not the only priority, but that others with symptoms can also be checked.
The world is grappling with a short supply of tests, prompting authorities to place strict guidelines on who should be checked for the virus.
“We’ll be removing the traveller component, but we’re working on that at the moment,” Dr Kelly told Q&A on Monday night, adding that announcements about testing prerequisites will be made “over the coming days”.
ABC’s Dr Swan said 60 per cent of infections have come from asymptomatic people “in some environments”, so “it’s not necessarily getting us anywhere” if coronavirus tests have been largely targeting the wrong people.
Change is needed or else ‘many people will die’
The announcement that changes will be made to Australia’s coronavirus testing criteria comes as the head of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on Tuesday morning (Australian time) the global pandemic has been “accelerating”.
“It took 67 days from the first reported case to reach 100,000 cases, 11 days for the second 100,000 cases, and just four days for the third 100,000 cases,” Dr Ghebreyesus told a COVID-19 press briefing.
— ABC Q+A (@QandA) March 23, 2020
But there’s still a possibility “the trajectory of this pandemic” could be altered he said, reassuring everyone they were not “prisoners to statistics” or “helpless bystanders”.
“We need unity among the G20 countries who have more than 80 per cent of the global GDP,” Dr Ghebreyesus said.
“If we don’t prioritise protecting health workers, many people will die because the health worker who could have saved their lives is sick.”