Two more elderly Australians are confirmed to have died after contracting coronavirus, as leaders unveil a grim forecast for the nation and a warning daily life may not go back to normal for six months.
The focus worldwide remains firmly on protecting the elderly and the already unwell from the flu-like illness – with countries taking ‘wartime’ steps to protect the vulnerable including in the UK where the over 70s will be asked to self-quarantine for up to four months.
In Australia, a key part of the protection measures is making it hit home to the young and healthy that they could be unknowingly spreading COVID-19.
- Read more: How to keep safe by ‘social distancing’
That has led Education Minister Dan Tehan and Prime Minister Scott Morrison to make the call that for now parents should keep their children in schools – despite a ban on gatherings over 500 people from Monday.
Parents have expressed frustration and confusion over the ruling schools will remain open. But Mr Tehan and Mr Morrison said medical advice was that having kids out of school and coming into contact with strangers could put more people at risk.
It comes as the PM revealed shock new predictions that hospitals and GPs could soon be overwhelmed by 300,000 people a day seeking treatment or testing for the coronavirus.
The prediction was made on Sunday as the Prime Minister announced the toughest precautions to date would be enacted from midnight, including mandatory 14-day self-isolation rules for international travellers.
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Victim’s daughter had been overseas
As the national toll of coronavirus cases hit nearly 300 patients, a 77-year-old Queensland woman and a 90-year-old from NSW became the fourth and fifth people to die in Australia from the virus.
The Queensland woman was aged 77, from Noosaville on the Sunshine Coast. She died in Sydney after flying from Brisbane on Friday.
Authorities believe the woman may have contracted the virus from her daughter who recently returned from the US.
A Queensland Health spokesman said the woman had developed symptoms on the plane and was taken to hospital. She died that day.
NSW Health announced on Sunday night a fifth fatality – a 90-year-old resident of the Dorothy Henderson Lodge aged-care home, where two other residents have died.
The woman died on Saturday.
Healthy Australians can help flatten the curve
Pleading with Australians to help health authorities manage the pandemic by ‘flattening the curve’ or peak of cases in coming weeks Mr Morrison revealed government modelling predicts hospitals and intensive care units could struggle to cope if nothing is done.
The modelling, obtained by The New Daily, is based on two infection rate scenarios that each coronavirus patient will spread the virus to 1.72 others or a higher infection rate of 2.48.
Assuming that every person infected will spread the virus to 2.48 people demand for hospital care, treatment or tests could spike to 300,000 people a day needing care if tougher measures are not taken.
But if quarantine measures for those infected is followed and self-isolation is practised that peak can be brought down to 100,000 coronavirus presentations a day in the health system.
Mr Morrison warned it could lead to rationing and new rules for intensive care unit beds and emergency department services.
“If you don’t take measures that seek to contain the spread, and mitigate the spread, then you have scenarios that look like this,” he said.
“You have scenarios where you get a very severe effect on the spread of the virus.
“You may move through it much more quickly, but what happens is the virus reaches more people, and that puts maximum pressure on your health system.”
The Prime Minister’s office was not prepared to provide estimates or modelling on how many people it expects will be infected, amid predictions it could involve millions of Australians.
Travellers must quarantine
Travellers who fail to follow the self-quarantine rules could be detained and face penalties of up to $20,000.
But international flight crew will be exempt and have been asked instead to practise social distancing when in Australia.
“I want to be clear about those travel restrictions I’ve just announced,” Mr Morrison said.
“All people coming to Australia will be required, I stress, to self-isolate for 14 days.
“This is very important.
“What we’ve seen in recent weeks is more countries having issues with the virus and that means the source of some of those transmissions are coming from more and more countries.”
Schools to remain open – for now
The PM warned that the disruption to Australians daily life could last up to six months or even longer as the world confronts a once-in-a-generation virus threat.
But he said there were good reasons to keep schools open for now.
“People are naturally anxious about the issues of schools,” Mr Morrison said.
“As the British chief medical officer observed over the last couple of days, the issue of wide-scale closure of schools, it may be anti-intuitive but the advice is this could be a very negative thing in terms of impacting on how these curves operate.
“The two reasons: When you take children out of school and put them back in the broader community, the ability for them to potentially engage with others increases that risk.
“Also issues of herd immunity which relate to children.
“The other is the disruption impact that could have and put at great risk the availability of critical workers such as nurses, doctors and others who are essential in the community because they would have to remain home and look after their children.
“That could make the situation worse, not better.”
The PM said the issue would be considered further on Friday, along with arrangements for Anzac Day.
“We will be putting out specific guidelines about those [Anzac Day] gatherings, and particularly the participation of more vulnerable Australians and our elderly veteran community,” Mr Morrison said.
New restrictions around the visiting of aged-care facilities are also likely to apply shortly.