Mr Morrison held a press conference today to announce a $2.4 billion package for Australia’s health system to help it respond to the coronavirus crisis, and also confirmed its economic response would be announced on Thursday.
The Prime Minister was asked about suggestions the coronavirus outbreak would peak in April but said this was speculative and “we’re looking for the best data to make those assessments”.
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said a pandemic or epidemic in Australia could be as short as eight weeks, or as long as 14 to 16 weeks.
“But we don’t actually know when we are going to enter that stage,” he said.
“It’s really hard to predict and certainly it’s very unlikely that we will peak in April.”
Dr Murphy also said a vaccine could take a year or more to produce.
“I think it would be very unrealistic to assume a vaccine is going to be here to do anything to impact on the current phase of the international outbreak,” he said.
FUNDING FOR TELEHEALTH AND FEVER CLINICS
Mr Morrison was joined by Health Minister Greg Hunt today to announce details of the government’s $2.4 billion health package.
“Just under $1.2 billion of that will actually, we anticipate, be spent this financial year,” Mr Morrison said.
From Friday, March 13, a telehealth service will be available and it will be bulk-billed at no cost to patients.
Mr Hunt said a new Medicare item would be created so people in isolation and vulnerable patients could access health treatment from their homes.
“That means for our elderly, for indigenous Australians over the age of 50, elderly over the age of 70, for people with chronic conditions and either pregnant mums or parents with young children who are isolated at home, they can also receive advice over the phone,” Mr Hunt said.
About 100 pop-up respiratory clinics will also be funded to make it easier for people to get tested if they think they have the virus.
GPs will also be supported to introduce a drive-through service or a separate entrance to their practices.
“We’re entering into a flexible situation,” Mr Hunt said. “Some general practices may choose to become dedicated respiratory clinics and in that situation, there’ll be very significant funding.”
Isolated or vulnerable patients will also be able to have their PBS prescriptions filled online or remotely, and to have medicines delivered to their home.
The national triage phone line will be expanded with an extra $50.7 million in funding, operating 24/7 to provide advice to patients.
The free-call hotline will advise people on the best course of action depending on their symptoms and risks.
Medical staff will direct people to the nearest hospital or respiratory clinic, or advise them to stay home and self-monitor, or contact their GP.
People who are not severely ill with COVID-19 – 80 per cent of people will have a mild illness – will be directed to GPs or a network of well-resourced GP-led respiratory clinics.
PLAN TO TACKLE CORONAVIRUS OVERALL
• $2.4 billion to deal with health impacts.
• Medicare item so health services can be delivered by audio or video to people with symptoms at home
• Respiratory clinics
• National communications campaign.
• Up to 100 ‘pop-up respiratory clinics’ set up across Australia at a cost of $205 million to test those concerned they may be sick
• Will divert people with mild or moderate symptoms away from emergency departments and GPs.
• Clinics staffed by doctors and nurses will be able to see up to 75 patients a day over six months.
• A new item will be created at a cost of $100 million, so people at home in self-isolation and quarantine can access health services and reduce the risk of exposure to others. Will start Friday and be fully bulk-billed
• If someone has a chronic disease, like a lung condition, and is at risk if they contracted the virus, they could consult their GP via Skype or FaceTime
• $30 million campaign to start this week, using television, radio, print, digital, social media, public transport, shopping centres and doctors’ waiting rooms.