Health official: Only the infected should be wearing masks

 

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly has stressed people do not need to wear masks unless they're infectious.

"In terms of mask use in the community, I would stress again, at the moment we do not think that is a good idea, partly because of that constraint supply," he said in a press conference this afternoon.

"But also the effectiveness in relation to people walking around with masks. The key point there - masks can be useful to stop the spread from a person with the disease to other people. If the mask is used correctly, that's true."

He said the mask had to be manufactured in line with Australian standards.

"For the moment, mask use not recommended for the Australian public, and we can continue to look at ways, and indeed we are actively looking at ways, of thinking about mask use into the future," Professor Kelly said.

Professor Kelly said wearing the masks when you didn't need them could actually be quite dangerous.

"Using a mask incorrectly can actually make it more dangerous," he said.

"So for example, if you are not used to wearing a mask, it can become quite uncomfortable, even claustrophobic.

"And indeed, it can become quite itchy underneath the mask. So touching a surface with the virus, scratching yourself underneath the mask, can in fact increase your risk rather than decrease your risk."

He said the advice was to stay home if you were sick and to ring ahead if you needed to seek help.

The advice is different to that in the US where everyone is being told to wear masks.

The World Health organisation says they should only be worn by medical staff, the sick and those in close contact with a case.

WHO is currently convening a panel of advisers to discuss whether this advice should change on the back of the US' new measure.

Federal MP's father-in-law dies

Stephanie Bedo

The father-in-law of Federal Labor MP Ged Kearney has died from coronavirus.

The MP shared a Facebook post confirming 'Mike' had become the 30th victim.

The Canberra resident was 82 years old and had done his best to self-isolate.

"In fact I believe he only went outside a couple of times in the whole month to shop," Ms Kearney wrote.

The father-in-law of Labor MP Ged Kearney has died from coronavirus, making him Australia's 30th victim of the pandemic.
The father-in-law of Labor MP Ged Kearney has died from coronavirus, making him Australia's 30th victim of the pandemic. Facebook

Feel good news

Stephanie Bedo

In something a bit more lighthearted, local Facebook group, Viral Kindness - Bondi has arranged free coffees for the St Vincent's Hospital team running the suburb's pop-up clinic.

Bondi resident and group admin, Clare Gemmell, has opened accounts at two nearby cafes which is serving kindness in two ways.

Locals are donating in order to keep the medics fed and watered, while the longstanding businesses are being supported to keep trading.

While Viral Kindness Bondi has driven the initiative, donations have also poured in from people within the Bondi Community Noticeboard Group­­ and Bondi Real Local Loop groups.

Clare is blown away by the community spirit and support.

Keep up the great work guys!

Massive cruise ship operation under way

Stephanie Bedo

NSW Police are leading the largest maritime operation undertaken in Sydney Harbour to help five cruise ships still stuck here.

Authorities have been working closely with the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line to safely coordinate the return of the ships to their home ports.

Following several days of planning, Spectrum of the Seas entered the port of Sydney about 4.30pm yesterday, guided by a marine pilot.

It anchored at Athol Bay to re-provision essential supplies, including fuel, food and medical materials.

It was joined by Radiance of the Seas which entered Sydney Harbour after 5am today.

More than 600 crew members, who are foreign nationals, were moved between the two ships in numerous tender operations, before both ships departed NSW waters to return to their home countries just before 2pm.

A third ship - Celebrity Solstice - entered Sydney Harbour just after 2pm, and a further two ships - Voyager of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas - were scheduled to enter the harbour this afternoon.

A further 780 crew members will be transferred in multiple tender operations this evening, before the remaining three ships depart.

A total of five Australian crew members remain on the ships.

Marine Area Commander, Superintendent Steve Hegarty, said the operation had been carefully planned.

"It will be the largest peacetime maritime operation undertaken in Sydney Harbour and has relied on the cooperation of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and the Port Authority of NSW to ensure its success."

"It will be the largest peacetime maritime operation undertaken in Sydney Harbour"

Several school cases in Sydney

Stephanie Bedo

NSW Health has detailed new cases in schools. They are:

  • A student at Bankstown Senior College
  • A student at St Mary's Senior High School
  • A staff member at Gloucester Primary School

There has also been a second positive case at TAFE Ultimo that is unrelated to the first case.

110 people in quarantine being tested

Stephanie Bedo

There are 110 people in quarantine in Sydney hotels who are being tested for coronavirus after they showed symptoms.

NSW Health is alerting passengers who were close contacts on flights to monitor for symptoms, and contact their GP, but call ahead first, or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222.

Results were due back today so we should get an update tomorrow.

Gold Coasters flout social distancing measures

Stephanie Bedo

One of the Gold Coast's most popular spots will have its carparks closed after crowds flocked to the beach despite social distancing measures in place.

Gold Coasters continued with their weekend recreation at The Spit.

The Gold Coast Bulletin showed packed carparks at The Spit as surfers, dog owners and bored locals went about their day as usual.

The city's furious Mayor, Tom Tate, will now close them.

"People are just not listening so we have taken this measure to discourage visitors," he told the newspaper.

"The message is clear: We can no longer be gathering in groups larger than two and we should only be out for essential activities and exercise.

"A lazy day at the Spit should not be on the cards right now."

Childcare centre records 25 cases

Stephanie Bedo

There are 25 coronavirus cases linked to one childcare centre in Sydney.

The cases are among seven staff, six children, 11 family members and one friend at The Rose of Sharon centre in Blacktown in western Sydney.

The centre has been closed.

NSW Health announced on March 30 that a staff member and two children had tested positive and close contacts were isolated

The centre's distressed owner said she had no idea how many people had tested positive when she was contacted by The Sunday Telegraph, thinking only one child had been infected.

"My god, that is so sad, I had no idea," she told the newspaper.

She said she wasn't sure who brought the virus in but it may have been a staff member who also worked as a cleaner at Tyndale Christian School.

Virus could worsen in winter

Stephanie Bedo

Earlier today Professor Paul Kelly, the country's deputy chief medical officer, also spoke about what we're looking at with coronavirus during winter.

"We know that during the winter months this tends to transmit more easily," he said.

"We do know that low humidity and low temperatures do tend to promote the infectiousness of respiratory viruses, and we suspect that this particular virus will be similar."

He said social distancing measures would help the fact that more people tended to gather inside during winter.

"The good news about that is that the daily increases are definitely less than they were a week or so ago…at the moment we are tracking quite well, that flattening of the curve we have talked about for some time now appears to be happening.

"But I really would caution thinking that we've got through this completely, because we definitely have not, and we really have to be hypervigilant."

SA records 11 new cases

Stephanie Bedo

South Australia Premier Steven Marshall says the state has recorded 11 new cases of coronavirus, taking its total to 407.

One of them is a teenager and another in a passenger from the Ruby Princess cruise ship.

In total there have been 85 people infected from that ship in SA and 119 overall from cruise ships.

Mr Marshall said 19 people remained in hospital and eight were in intensive care.

"My biggest concern going forward is complacency. I don't want anyone to think we can relax the restrictions in place," he said this afternoon.

"Travel around the state this Easter is completely and utterly off.

"It's really important that we follow this restriction. If we do so we will unequivocally save lives."

He also announced a deal with the private hospital system that will see 1700 beds added to the state's capacity.

WA records nine new cases

Stephanie Bedo

Western Australia's Health Minister Roger Cook says the state has recorded 14 new cases of COVID-19, taking the total to 426.

They are aged between 26 and 84 years old.

He said 12 are from the metropolitan area, one is from the Kimberley region, and one is from the Pilbara region.

Four are related to cruise ships and one is still under investigation.

Three of the new cases are in hospital.

"As with all cases, contact tracing is under way to ensure all close contacts are notified and are self-isolating," Mr Cook said.

There are currently 58 COVID-19 patients in Perth metropolitan hospitals, with 18 in ICU.

ACT records second death

Stephanie Bedo

ACT Health says a man in his 80s has died after contracting coronavirus, taking the national death toll to 30.

The man had pre-existing health issues.

The state has recorded two new cases.

Queensland cases 'trending down'

Sam Clench

Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles was fairly upbeat at a press conference earlier, saying the state was trending in the right direction.

"We are trending down in terms of the number of positive results, and that is because of the effectiveness of the social distancing measures put in place," he said.

"The closing of our international and domestic borders, the restrictions on social distancing, requiring people to not leave their homes unless it is essential, on top of the incredible effort of our health staff together, are helping.

"We have to keep it up to delay the further spread of this terrible virus."

He said Queensland had added 276 cases this week, compared to 380 last week - a clear improvement.

Hazzard 'must take responsibility'

Sam Clench

Brad Hazzard's performance earlier has not satisfied the NSW opposition. Labor leader Jodi McKay has called for the Health Minister to resign.

"The Ruby Princess is one of the greatest public health failures in NSW history," Ms McKay said this afternoon.

"Not only is this government responsible for the crisis, they have sought to cover it up every day since.

"The buck stops with the Health Minister. And as a result, we are today calling for the Health Minister to stand aside. He must take responsibility. This is his agency."

One new death, 165 new cases

Sam Clench

Amid all that excitement, we got some new figures from a number of states. Let's run through them now.

As we mentioned earlier, New South Wales has added 104 new coronavirus cases, bringing its state total to 2493.

Victoria has reported 30 new cases and a total of 1115. It has also suffered one more death, with a woman in her seventies dying in hospital.

Queensland has come in a little lower, with 27 new cases and 900 in total.

And the Northern Territory added four new cases overnight, bringing its total to 26.

That all adds up to a national tally of 5523 confirmed cases, up 165 from yesterday, and a death toll of 29.

11:35 amApril 4, 2020Highlight

99 returned travellers not at home

Sam Clench

As NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard wrapped up his hour-long media conference, his Victorian counterpart Jenny Mikakos fronted the cameras for hers.

Ms Mikakos said police checks had been carried out on 391 return travellers in the state, and 99 of those people were not at home.
"That's incredibly disappointing," she said.

"Those individuals are putting their fellow Victorians at risk. They are putting themselves and other members of the community at risk.

"It's really important that they understand that since last Sunday, we have now been quarantining return travellers in hotels, but for those who returned prior to the start of those changes they are still required to self quarantine for the full 14 days. No exceptions.

"So they need to be staying at home."

She said police had also checked 103 businesses.

The cops issued 25 fines to people overnight for not complying with the stage three restrictions.

'Show a little courtesy': Hazzard defiant

Sam Clench

All of those earlier comments from NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard came during his initial statement. As the media conference continued and he took questions from journalists, things got even more combative.

"Explain to me how your resignation should not be on the Premier's desk right now," Channel 7's Denham Hitchcock said.

"Can I just say that the experts who made the decision were the best in the world. And the appropriate thing at this point is for the investigation to continue," the Minister said, referring to the investigation NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller is conducting into the Ruby Princess matter.

"Are you talking about the experts on the boat, or here? In your department, or on the boat?" Hitchcock followed up.

"The Health Department. I will take you through it, because it sounds like you don't actually know how it works," Mr Hazzard shot back.

"If you wouldn't mind showing a little courtesy, thank you very much," he said, as Hitchcock kept speaking.

Mr Hazzard said the decision to keep passengers on board ships or let them disembark was always a "balancing act".

"One issue that hasn't been picked up by the media, but which has been raised by the chief health officers involved in these processes - we all remember the Diamond Princess, when people were kept on board a ship and it was a disastrous outcome. And that operates in the mind of all the senior health officials across Australia. It is a balancing act," he said.

While sticking up for those officials, Mr Hazzard also made it clear that he himself had no role in the Ruby Princess decision.

"I think you have got to say, and I as Health Minister - same as the Premier and same as the Commissioner - we have to rely on the expertise on the health professionals," he said.

"I saw somewhere, somebody said I made the decision on the Ruby Princess. I didn't know anything about the Ruby Princess. I was dealing with all the other issues that were obviously being dealt with.

"Usually I start work here at 6am or 7am and finish close to midnight. I had no knowledge until the day after."

With that, he threw to Dr Chant, who gave reporters a breakdown of the decision-making process.

She said that while NSW Health knew there was a respiratory illness on the Ruby Princess, doctors on board the ship did not suspect coronavirus.

"Obviously if there are learnings and insights that we gather, those will be reflected," said Dr Chant.

"Just to be clear, there was nothing transmitted to that group of people that COVID was suspected by the doctor on the ship."

Crucially, the ship was given a "low" risk assessment.

"Can I just assure the public - because I think this is really critical - NSW Health had learned the lessons of the Diamond Princess, and had extensive planning under way to actually disembark people and passengers, should we suspect COVID-19 on a cruise ship," she continued.

"We had always planned to ensure self-isolation for people in the Sydney region.

"If we had known that COVID was on this ship, or had it been suspected, we would have chosen that way of disembarkation.

"While they were on the cruise ship, they were at risk of onward transmission amongst themselves.

"We would have got them off in a different way."

Dr Chant argued the vast majority of cases linked to the Ruby Princess involved people who were infected on board - and only 11 people so far have got the disease as a result of the decision to let it dock.

"Just to be clear, because I think it is really important. As I've indicated, for cases that we could have averted by decanting people in a more ordered way with face masks, and taking them directly to their homes, would have been in the order of 11," she said.

"The people that have acquired their infection on the cruise ship could not have been avoided, and every period of time that people were on that cruise ship, they were actually at risk of more transmission.

"The safest place for those passengers is off it.

"I just want to make it clear that the deaths and the cases on that cruise ship were acquired on that cruise ship."

Mr Hazzard jumped back in after that, getting the final word on the subject.

"I think the issue now is with the benefit of hindsight, people start drawing conclusions and say, 'Oh, he should have done this.' I actually think the health team we have is the world's best," he said.

"The questioning of that, to an extent, is valid, but it also has to be done in a temperate and sensible way.

"There's an assumption from you (reporters) and others that was was done is wrong."

Minister defends Ruby Princess decision

Sam Clench

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard also spoke at some length about the decision to allow the Ruby Princess cruise ship to dock in Sydney last month and unload 2700 passengers.

Hundreds of those passengers have since tested positive for the coronavirus, and seven of them have died.

A significant number of Australia's total confirmed cases - something in the region of 10 per cent - are linked to that single ship.

Understandably, this had led to criticism of NSW Health. But Mr Hazzard was defiant this morning.

He said the decision to allow the Ruby Princess to dock had been made by "the world's best" health experts.

"Today when I read some of the headlines, I have to say, my heart went out to those senior health staff," said Mr Hazzard.

"I have seen senior health staff - all I will say is that I have seen them extremely emotional because of the long hours they have worked and because of the challenges they are facing.

"I find it disappointing in the strongest way possible that there can be any suggestion that those people are not doing their best.

"In general terms, can I just say, this city of ours is the gateway to Australia. In normal times we pride ourselves on that. We believe that we actually do lead the way in this country, through Sydney and NSW. But part of that is we have more people coming through our airports and ports than any other state.

"We have more cruise ships that come through that port of Sydney than any other port in Australia. In a normal course of events there are about 300 of these cruise ships that come in through the port of Sydney every year, and sometimes it's more.

"The very senior health staff that make the assessments on those cruise ships are actually among the world's best. There are four, generally, involved in each decision. Four very senior health staff. They are specialist physicians, doctors with extraordinary training and experience in public health."

Mr Hazzard made a point of mentioning the state's chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, who was standing next to him. He said senior health staff like Dr Chant were working incredibly long hours to try to keep the community safe.

"I would say to all of you in the public - and actually it is not so much I think the public, there are others who are making comments - but I would say to the people who are being critical, know that these frontline staff are sometimes working, as Dr Chant did - she won't want me to say this, but last Saturday she worked for 31 straight hours before she stood before the media. She hadn't slept. People don't do that unless they have extraordinary commitment to all of us," said Mr Hazzard.

"What I would say to the community and to those who are leaping to criticise is, take a step back, and realise that we need every one of these people, who have worked their hearts out, worked every possible thing they could do to keep us safe, and we should be very temperate and careful in any criticism of those people.

"I think if the average person got some of the criticism that was being thrown at them, they would say, 'I am not doing this job anymore.' That is something we cannot afford to have. We need to make sure we are temperate and supportive of all these senior staff who are making these difficult decisions.

"I also want to point out that some of these staff have worked for between 10 and 30 years making these sorts of decisions. They bring to it the world's best expertise. In the case of one very senior person involved in the decision-making, he has actually made assessments on literally thousands of these ships.

"Cruise ships are always a challenge. Always a challenge. They can be great fun, but I think anyone who has been on one would know that we have regular outbreaks on cruise ships of issues like gastroenteritis, legionella, influenza, and we do need experts to be able to give the advice on how best to address those issues."

9:59 amApril 4, 2020Highlight

104 new cases in NSW

Sam Clench

NSW has reported 104 new cases of the virus, bringing its total to 2493 and bumping up the national tally to 5466.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard thanked the public for obeying social distancing instructions during the last week.

"Since basically last Saturday, today a week ago, there has been a remarkable taking on of responsibility by all of us," Mr Hazzard said.

"Some very strong messages have had to be sent, particularly the issues around all those people who were on Bondi Beach, well within the 1.5 metres, but the movement of people from that beach has sent a message to all of NSW and I think all of Australia that social distancing is the crucial aspect of our way of life.

"You cannot afford to treat them lightly."

Not for the first time, he addressed young people directly, urging them to take the rules seriously.

"Some young people think it won't affect them. My message as Health Minister is, be very aware, this can have extremely deleterious (harmful) health effects. You could possibly die from this," he said.

"Young people who think they are not going to be affected, you are wrong. It is quite possible you will be. You won't be, perhaps, affected to the extent older people will be, but you could be the unlucky one who ends up in hospital, in intensive care units, on respirators. And the consequences of that may be very, very poor."

Mr Hazzard said NSW had tweaked the rules around funeral attendance. Previously only 10 people, including funeral staff, were allowed to attend. Now it's 10 people in addition to the staff.

He also clarified a couple of minor issues, saying caravan parks can stay open for overnight travellers, local workers and people whose primary residence is unavailable; that truck stops should reopen; and that livestock auctions can take place.

Changes to temporary visas

Sam Clench

The government is making temporary changes to visa arrangements to help farmers access workers, and to assist other essential services.

The changes include allowing working holidaymakers to continue to work in agriculture and food processing until the pandemic has passed.

"We can't afford to see fruit rotting on trees and vines and vegetables left unpicked. It is vital our farmers maximise their hard work and economic returns," Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said in a statement this morning.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said workforce requirements for agriculture change within and across states as different crops are ready for harvest.

"It essential for our food security that workers can move to meet these seasonal labour needs," Mr Littleproud said in the joint statement.

"At the same time, it is critical we manage this labour force to support the ongoing health of regional communities."

As such, before moving to other parts of the country, working holiday makers will need to self-isolate for 14 days and register at the australia.gov.au website.
Those who do not comply will face having their visas cancelled.

Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said the visa changes were also geared towards other key industries, such as health and aged and disability care.

Working holidaymakers who are working in these critical sectors will be exempt from the six-month work limitation with one employer, and will be eligible for a further visa to keep working if their current visa is due to expire in the next six months.

- AAP

When renters announcement is coming

Sam Clench

Government MP Trent Zimmerman appeared on ABC News a short time ago. He was asked when renters could expect an announcement on the fate of the housing market.

We didn't get that announcement yesterday. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the details were still being worked out with the states and territories.

"I think it points to what's typifying this whole crisis - governments are making decisions in a matter of days or weeks that would normally take years to resolve. I'm really impressed," Mr Zimmerman said.

"What we saw from the National Cabinet yesterday was an indication that for commercial leases, some type of arrangement is very close, and it is going back to the National Cabinet on Tuesday."

So, if you're waiting for that announcement, Tuesday is probably a safe bet.

"The approach they're adopting is for small and medium-sized businesses, to institute through state legislation a mandatory code for those businesses, and tenants that have been affected negatively by the coronavirus," said Mr Zimmerman.

"That code will obviously lay out how landlords and tenants should be resolving the situation. But the clear principles are firstly that there can't be evictions; secondly that landlords need to recognise the proportionate reduction in trade and revenue that their tenants are still receiving; thirdly, obviously we want a cooperative process."

Requirements waived for drug

Sam Clench

The Guardian reports the federal government has waived therapeutic goods registration requirements for an anti-malarial drug Donald Trump has been hyping up as a potential treatment for the coronavirus.

The drug in question is called hydroxychloroquine. Mr Trump loves it - he says it could be a "game changer in the history of medicine" - but medical experts have warned there isn't yet enough data to determine whether it's an effective treatment for this virus.

Our own Health Minister Greg Hunt has previously said he was "cautiously" hopeful it could work, citing "some promising research so far".

In truth, the research is a bit mixed. The Conversation has a decent round-up of the available evidence here.

Usually a drug must be listed on the register of therapeutic goods before it can be supplied in Australia, but exemptions can be made to deal with a threat to public health.

"The specified therapeutic goods must only be supplied in Australia for the prevention, treatment or alleviation of coronavirus disease following advice from the Australian government Department of Health," reads the exemption in this case.

None of this means hydroxychloroquine is about to be widely available as a treatment for the coronavirus. The government is merely supporting two trials involving the drug.

NT's first person-to-person transmission

Sam Clench

The most recent update we have is from the Northern Territory, which reported another four cases of the virus overnight.

That brought the territory's total to 26, but more significant than that number is the fact that it has recorded its first case of person-to-person transmission.

The patient in question is a woman in her twenties, who came into close contact with a family member who contracted the virus overseas.

Bombshell email in cruise ship debacle

Sam Clench

Nine News has got its hands on emails exchanged between NSW Health and the senior physician aboard the Ruby Princess before the disastrous decision to allow the cruise ship to dock in Sydney.

Hundreds of its passengers have since tested positive for the coronavirus, and that single ship is linked to a significant percentage of Australia's total confirmed cases.

Seven of the passengers have died.

According to Nine, the emails show NSW Health asking eight questions of the physician. In particular, it wanted a list of passengers and crew members with fever or acute respiratory systems.

The ship's response revealed there were two Australians with such symptoms, both of whom needed to be transferred to hospital. Both patients had tested negative for the flu.

Later that day, NSW Health wrote back.

"The NSW Health expert panel has assessed the Ruby Princess as not requiring on-board health assessment in Sydney," it said.

"We could, however, ask you to send the 15 samples to our lab for COVID testing. You are free to disembark tomorrow."

The upshot here is that NSW Health knew there were people with coronavirus-like symptoms on board, but let the entire ship disembark anyway, without even performing an on-board health assessment.

Not a great call.

 

Australia could hit peak this month

Sam Clench

New data from the University of Sydney's Centre for Complex Systems indicates Australia could hit the apex of its coronavirus outbreak soon, with the number of active cases peaking in mid-April.

"The model updated with most recent data shows that Australia is very close to the incidence peak, and in two weeks' time may be approaching the prevalence peak," said the research team's leader, Professor Mikhail Prokopenko.

"What this means is that the number of new daily cases will begin to steadily reduce from now on. The number of all 'active' cases may keep rising until mid-April, and then start to slowly decline."

As Prime Minister Scott Morrison and chief medical officer Brendan Murphy have been keen to point out, the rate of increase in new cases across the country has been declining this week.

In plainer language, Australia is still adding cases, but at a slower rate than before.

Our current national tally is 5362. According to Prof Prokopenko, Australia could peak at 8000-10,000 cases - but only if the vast majority of people continue to comply with social distancing.

"Our research shows that if we continue with current social distancing measures the total number of people who will contract COVID-19 over the course of the pandemic in Australia could be about 8000-10,000 people," he said.

"Initially there may have been a short delay with adopting strong social distancing measures, but over the last week we seem to be tracking well.

"We mustn't be complacent - the best outcome is a short-term pain, long-term gain scenario. Even a three-day delay in adopting strong social distancing measures would cost us a three-week lengthening of the suppression period, meaning we would have to comply with social distancing for longer."

In this context, "strong" social distancing is defined as 90 per cent of the population complying.

Prof Prokopenko did concede that a rebound in cases would be possible after the initial suppression period, but said more efficient and larger-scale testing methods should be available by July. Coupled with continued travel restrictions, that should hopefully prevent a resurgence.

It's worth pointing out that not everyone is so optimistic. Mr Morrison has repeatedly told Australians to prepare for "at least six months" of social distancing, and yesterday Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk warned her state's peak could come as late as September.

"We haven't even started to climb the curve. We are about two or three weeks behind NSW and the peak could be in July, August, September."

New flights to get Australians home

Sam Clench

Victoria briefly mentioned this earlier, but just to confirm - Qantas and Virgin are going to resume flights from London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Auckland to help stranded Australians get home.

The flights have been organised after talks with the federal government, which is expected to subsidise the airlines for any loss they make.

"Many Australians will be able to get to one of these four destinations. They can do so knowing there will be an Australian airline to get them home," Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement last night.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the month-long window would allow Australians to get home as soon as possible, while also providing freight capacity to exporters and importers.

He indicated the government had helped fund the services, on top of the $1 billion support package already announced for the industry.

But it's unclear whether the new flights will make it any cheaper for stranded travellers and expats to get home amid skyrocketing prices for long haul flights in recent weeks.

The cheapest one-way flight from London to Sydney in the next month is $1000, and involves stopovers in Poland, India and Singapore, according to Google Flights.

The cheapest direct one-way flight from Los Angeles to Sydney is $1479, on May 3.

The British government announced an $AU153 million package to help its own nationals return to the United Kingdom this week. Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said airlines should offer alternative flights at "little or not cost" where routes have been cancelled.

Ms Payne has indicated the government could potentially fund charter flights to pick up Australians who are unable to access the four airports mentioned above, particularly those in South America and the Pacific Islands.

"We recognise that, in some cases, this will not be possible. We will continue to work closely with the airlines and our overseas consular assistance network in these situations," she said.

"While there are no commercial options available, the government will consider supporting, on a case-by-case basis, non-scheduled services to other overseas destinations.

"We are continuing our constructive discussions with Qantas and Virgin on flights to less accessible destinations."

- with AAP

Residents try to sneak across border

Sam Clench

Police have caught New South Wales residents trying to sneak across the closed Queensland border - some of them on foot.

Backpackers who tried to cross into the state on public transport were pulled off buses. One driver took to the footpath to avoid the barriers cutting Queensland off from interstate barriers.

"It is extraordinarily disappointing," said Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll.

"We have complaints about backpackers on buses blatantly disregarding what's been asked of them, and enforcement action will be taken.

"We are doing this for our safety and the safety of our community. I just ask that we all work together."

Police have ramped up security at the border, stopping thousands of motorists trying to cross the state line.

Queenslanders are still allowed to return home, and freight traffic is exempt. But anyone else needs a government permit to prove their movement is necessary.

More than 4000 vehicles have been stopped, and 75 people were refused entry yesterday.

It has caused significant delays on the highways, but Ms Carroll has asked for patience and cooperation.

"There will be delays but if you do not have a border pass, there is no entry in Queensland," she said.

Meanwhile another 11 people have been fined $1344 for flouting social distancing and quarantining regulations, taking the total to 14.

- AAP

Queensland nurses suffer abuse

Victoria Craw

Queensland nurses have been abused by members of the public for allegedly "spreading" coronavirus, in behaviour described by the state's health minister as disgusting.

Some staffers were being "egged", abused and told not to wear their uniforms outside work in "soul-destroying" treatment, The Courier Mail reports.

On Friday Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said he was disgusted and shocked that health workers would be targeted "at this particularly challenging time".

"They have been vilified, they have been threatened, they have been treated abhorrently," he said.

"I want to call on every Queenslander if you see someone out and about in a Queensland Health uniform, they're our heroes. They should wear their scrubs with pride - not fear they'll single them out for abuse.

"They are people who go to work every day to take care of us, so thank them, don't yell at them."

Qantas reports 50 staff coronavirus cases

Qantas has recorded up to 50 cases of coronavirus among staff, including eight pilots, up to 19 flight attendants and 14 baggage handlers. 

Dr Russell Brown said most of those infected were from overseas and taking precautions at a staff webinar on Friday. 

"They are wearing masks when flying and being careful and we're still seeing these cases," Dr Brown said.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia now stands at 5362.

As of Saturday morning there were 2389 in NSW, 1085 in Victoria, 873 in Queensland, 396 in South Australia, 422 in Western Australia, 80 in Tasmania, 91 in the Australian Capital Territory and 26 in the Northern Territory.


Originally published as Qantas reports 50 staff coronavirus cases