Australia’s chief medical officer has told Australians there is no need for face masks and to go about their normal business only hours before Victoria’s chief medical officer Doctor Brett Sutton said a coronavirus pandemic may be unavoidable?
Dr Sutton took to Twitter on Sunday and in a six-part message said a surge in cases was “inevitable.”
“It’s clear that with local transmission in several countries that a pandemic is very likely, if not inevitable. We are working rapidly on planning and surge with our health sector,” Dr Sutton said.
I’m speaking to my CHO counterparts daily and briefing the sector – and indeed all sectors – through our emergency management arrangements, under
. This is critical – pandemics challenge all sectors with effects on supply, workforce and business continuity. (4/6)
Dr Sutton’s previous message to Australia two weeks ago
“We’ve got some of the brightest minds in the world in our health services, laboratories, research sector and emergency management sector. I’m confident we’re well placed to meet the challenges ahead, whatever they might be. Hoping for the best, and planning for the worst.”
NSW Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerry Chant said, that currently there was no evidence of community spread of COVID-19 in Australia however, it was prudent to plan for a situation in which this occurs.
His comments come after the country’s chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy downplayed the risk to Australians.
Professor Murphy said there had been no community transmission of the virus in Australia, despite 22 confirmed cases.
“There is no risk to people walking around the streets, walking in the shopping centres,” he said.
“The only risk is being in contact with people who have come from an area where there is high transmission or there’s contact.
“I’m saying to people in Australia: don’t wear masks, go about your normal business.”
Professor Murphy’s updated advice came after a seventh passenger evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship to Darwin tested positive for coronavirus on Saturday. The virus had killed more than 2450 people and infected nearly 78,000 by Sunday afternoon.
South Korea and Japan both reported a sharp spike in cases in the past 24 hours, with the number of cases in South Korea rising to at least 556.
But Professor Murphy said that despite the best efforts of local researchers to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus, “there’s no realistic prospect of a vaccine in the short term.”
“It’s still a long, long way away. Months away. Generally speaking, to get a vaccine from candidate to molecule test would be more than a year.”
Professor Murphy said he was concerned about the increase in confirmed cases in Japan and South Korea, where there had been evidence of community transmission.
“As you know most of the cases in Japan were related to the cruise ship but they have had a number of other cases as well,” he said.
Also on Sunday, the first group of Australians evacuated from China’s Wuhan province to Darwin were released after two weeks in quarantine.
Professor Murphy said none of the 266 people tested positive for the virus during their quarantine, “which is fantastic news for them and fantastic news for their families”.
A letter from the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre sent on Sunday morning to about 266 Australian citizens in the Darwin camp said there had been “no cases identified with symptoms of the virus among this cohort”.
“As such, the Australian government is facilitating the movement of those currently in Howard Springs back to their home cities in Australia,” the letter said.
The quarantine period ended at 5.30am on Sunday and evacuees have since been cleared to re-enter the general population.
“All individuals released from quarantine … are deemed fit to travel by air and have not been identified as posing any risk to community health,” the letter said.
There are concerns that the 14-day quarantine might not be long enough after a man in China’s Hubei province showed symptoms 27 days after being exposed to the virus, but a Department of Health spokesman said the Australian government’s response was “evidence-based and proportionate”.
“Australian authorities continue to monitor overseas developments closely,” he said in a statement, adding travel restrictions were reviewed weekly.
“Our health emergency response arrangements are flexible and scalable, and are being tailored to most effectively respond to the evolving situation.”
The government has relaxed the travel ban for senior high school students flying from China to Australia to ensure they can resume their studies. This decision affects about 760 Year 11 and Year 12 students, though university students are waiting on a decision next week about whether they will be able to come to Australia.
The outbreak ramped up globally over the weekend, with northern towns in Italy on lockdown and cases in South Korea rising on Saturday to almost 450.
The World Health Organization’s Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press conference on Saturday that the increasing signs of transmission outside China “show that the window of opportunity we have for containing this virus is narrowing”.
The Italian government also decided to cancel all sports events in Lombardy and Veneto on Sunday, a decision which will affect three Serie A football games.