Chief medical officer Professor Brendan Murphy said the “cohort tests” will sample various sections of the community, even if they aren’t showing any coronavirus symptoms.
“Just to make sure that our confidence that we don’t have significant asymptomatic transmission is correct,” he told reporters in Canberra on Friday afternoon.
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He said the groups tested would include consecutive elective surgery patients to reassure people coming in for operations and the hospital staff involved “that we’re not having cases in that group”.
Prof Murphy said aged care workers will also be tested “voluntarily, if they wish to” as will healthcare workers.
“Even though they’re perfectly well, just to reassure us and them that they’re not carrying this virus,” he said.
“We’ll be doing another range of cohorts from time to time, just going out and sampling parts of the community, just to ensure that we are not seeing asymptomatic transmission.”
He said the health department still believes most people transmitting the coronavirus to others “actually have some symptoms”.
Prof Murphy reiterated Australians showing even the most minor of respiratory symptoms such as a runny nose, cough or sore throat should come forward to be tested.
“That plus downloading the (COVIDSafe) app and sticking to what we’ve asked you to do, makes the country safe for you,” he said.
Almost 600,000 tests have already been performed, returning less than 7000 positive results.
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Asked if they will be “cohort testing” school communities, Prof Murphy said one state was already considering testing a group of teachers for peace of mind.
He said “a lot of asymptomatic children” linked to COVID-19 outbreaks in NSW had been tested.
But he said there was “increasing evidence from Europe”, including studies out of the UK and the Netherlands, that “consistently show transmission amongst children is not being seen, it’s not significant”.
“There really isn’t a strong basis to test a cohort of children at this time,” Prof Murphy said.
Anyone linked to a confirmed case of coronavirus will now be tested rather than just advised to self-isolate.
Earlier in the press conference, the chief medical officer said “pretty convincingly, we have flattened the curve”.
The number of new cases over recent days has also been “consistently” less than 20 per day.
“Our case numbers are so low now that we can analyse each case, each cluster,” he said.