Australia prepares for 50,000 to 150,000 coronavirus deaths


In a worst case scenario, 15 million people would get the coronavirus and 150,000 would die.

Professor Kelly said authorities hoped to slow the rise in cases to keep the death rate lower than in other countries.

“Rather than concentrating on numbers, we are focused on preventing a large and rapid rise in cases in the coming weeks and months through thorough and proportionate public health measures,” he said.

A six-hour meeting of all Australia’s chief medical officers in Canberra on Monday night will also consider whether to reduce the 500-person limit set on Friday for all non-essential mass gatherings for enclosed spaces.

Professor Kelly said federal and state chief health officers would debate whether there should be different restrictions on a “football stadium versus a pub”.

“We have been asked to give frank and fearless medical advice from the beginning and that’s what we will continue to do,” he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and all state and territory leaders are expected to make a decision on the recommendations on Tuesday.

Mr Morrison said the coronavirus was a “one in 100-year event” and slowing the spread of the virus would save lives.

The potential new measures could mean pubs, restaurants and cinemas being either forced to shut or scale down their operations. Popular Sydney pub the Vic on the Park in Marrickville has a capacity of up to 1000. In Melbourne, the Exchange Hotel in the CBD holds more than 900. Hoyts and Event cinemas in Sydney and Melbourne can hold more than 200 people in a session.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday recommended a stop to mass gatherings of 50 people or more including weddings, parades and concerts for the next two months. Ireland shut down pubs and New York ordered all restaurants to become take-away only.

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The Australian government expects the number of local cases to rise to 1000 by the end of the week after a dramatic increase in confirmed cases in NSW, with an additional 37 positive tests bringing the state’s tally to 171 on Monday afternoon.

Six of NSW’s cases attended a wedding in Stanwell Tops, between Sydney and Wollongong, on March 6. Another 14 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus in Victoria, taking the number of infected people in the state to 71.

The government is not expected to consider nationwide school closures at this stage as health officials weigh up extending the Easter school holidays in three weeks’ time.

All options remain on the table if the infection rate escalates sharply. The government is wary of taking healthcare workers out of the workforce to care for their children or potentially infectious children being sent to stay with more vulnerable grandparents.

“That situation may change in the future,” Mr Morrison said on Monday. “When it does, that’s when we’ll act.”

Professor Kelly said elderly people, Australians with a disability and those living in remote communities were at increased risk.

“We need to do what we can to limit the opportunity for the infection to come into aged care,” he said.

Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck on Monday announced that providers would be asked to limit visits to residential facilities.

“Given the risks to older Australians from COVID-19, particularly those with chronic disease and other frailties, we now recommend that residential aged care providers restrict visitor access,” Senator Colbeck said.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the Council of Australian Governments meeting would prioritise preparing the energy system for the spread of the disease.

“Our priority must be to ensure Australia is well-placed to respond to energy supply disruptions, including electricity, gas and liquid fuels,” he said.

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