The two most crucial medicines the government would need to stockpile were antibiotics and antivirals, Professor Kelly said, “although we know there is no specific antiviral agent that can be used in any useful way against COVID-19 at this point.”
Professor Kelly urged Australians not to repeat their toilet paper panic-buying behaviour at the chemist, warning that doing so could be dangerous for fellow citizens with chronic illnesses – and saying the government may be forced to step in to prevent it.
“At this stage in Australia, there are no issues of shortages of any of the vital medicines that we need,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean that there might not be shortages of supply in your particular pharmacy … You can actually make a shortage very quickly by people hoarding and, please, do not do this with any goods – but particularly with pharmaceutical products.”
He warned doctors to stay home from work if they had cold or flu symptoms, after a Melbourne doctor was diagnosed with the coronavirus after treating 70 patients, saying: “Don’t soldier on.”
Professor Kelly stopped short of recommending that all doctors be tested for the virus, saying it was “a clinical decision” for the medical practitioner to make.
However, he said, anyone who had returned from overseas travel “should consider” getting tested.
He said while the government would not be asking pharmacists to impose pack limits at this stage, it may later do so and was also looking at increasing the amount of medicine the chronically ill could buy at one time, to reduce the likelihood of high-risk patients coming into contact with the virus.
Professor Kelly said the government would announce funding for GPs to deliver Skype sessions to patients with suspected coronavirus “in the coming days”, saying the measure would be key to slowing its spread – while also reducing the demand for protective masks.
“You cannot catch this virus over Telehealth,” he said.
He said an additional 260,000 surgical masks would be released from the national medical stockpile “for use immediately” by health workers.
“Those masks are on the move now … GPs and others just need to ask and they will be provided,” he said.
“But it’s not an unlimited supply, and so there will be other announcements in coming days in relation to our efforts to increase the supply of masks in Australia.”
This would include talking to Taiwan, which is ramping up manufacturing, along with sourcing masks through a factory in Victoria.
The number of locally-transmitted coronavirus cases in Sydney surged on Saturday as six new cases were confirmed, bringing the state’s tally to 34 infections.
Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.