March 23, 2020 18:41:03
A rapid-diagnostic test for COVID-19 has been approved for use in Australia and could be in use within a week, according to one expert.
It comes as pubs and clubs have closed in Australia, nearly $100 billion has been wiped off Australian shares, and a cruise ship with 250 ill passengers is heading for Perth.
This story is being updated regularly throughout the day. You can also stay informed with the latest episode of the Coronacast podcast.
Monday’s key moments
Strict new rules come into effect in Australia
Last night, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced new restrictions on public venues that he expected would be in place for “at least six months“.
Since midday today, the following businesses have been closed to limit the spread of coronavirus:
PubsClubsCinemasCasinosNightclubsIndoor places of worshipGymsIndoor sporting venues
Cafes and restaurants will be able to operate, but only to offer takeaway and delivery services.
Rapid-diagnostic test to give results within 15 minutes
A rapid-diagnostic test for COVID-19 has been approved for use in Australia and could be in use within a week or so, according to a past president of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration [TGA] has approved the new antibody test by company MD Solutions, which gives results within 15 minutes.
Nick Talley tweet
There are some pros and cons.
The test detects antibodies produced by the immune system, not the virus itself. This means patients who have been recently infected but have not yet mounted an immune response will not return a positive result.
It is also less sensitive, meaning it will give a negative result to some patients who have the disease.
But it also gives a positive result to people who have had the disease in the past, meaning it can show who might have some immunity and be at a lower risk of contracting the virus again.
“This is one of the most important things in the crisis — getting testing right,” said Nicholas Talley, who edits the Medical Journal of Australia, and a former president of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.
The test had been approved by the FDA in the United States before being fast-tracked in Australia, Greg Dore from the Kirby Institute at St Vincent’s hospital said.
He said ordinarily the approval of a new technology by Australia’s TGA after a decision by the FDA could take months, but the expedited process demonstrated authorities were responding to the crisis.
“That’s amazingly unusual, it’s unprecedented,” Professor Dore said.
Meanwhile, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said increased supplies of test kits were on the way, with more than 1.5 million on order.
NRL suspends its season
The NRL has suspended its 2020 season, with the closure of Queensland’s borders and the spread of coronavirus forcing its hand.
NRL tweet on season suspension
ARLC chairman Peter V’Landys confirmed the news late this afternoon, saying due to the rapid rate of infection the league could no longer guarantee the safety of the players.
“We are not going to put a timeframe to the suspension,” he said.
“We will look at how we can recommence the season, be it in other areas, be it in northern Queensland, all of the options are still on the table.”
The AFL announced on Sunday it was suspending its season until May 31, and the FFA is also set to make a “major announcement” about the A-League season Tuesday morning.
Cruise ship with ill passengers heading for Perth
A cruise ship with more than 250 ill people among its 1,700 passengers is headed for Perth, having requested to dock at Fremantle Port as early as tonight.
It is set to arrive a day before the state plans to close all its borders to non-essential travel.
WA Premier Mark McGowan said all the passengers were from overseas — Germany, France and Italy — and more than 250 passengers had reported upper respiratory illnesses.
He said the passengers would not be allowed off the ship, saying he did not want a repeat of what happened with the Ruby Princess in Sydney, where passengers were allowed to disembark after docking at Circular Quay despite confirmed COVID-19 cases on board.
“I will not allow what happened in Sydney to happen here,” Mr McGowan said.
“We will not allow passengers or crew to wander the streets. This is a non-negotiable position.
“Options are currently being developed between the Commonwealth, the defence forces and the State Government.
Pharmacists told to stop dispensing ‘cure’ drugs
Pharmacists are being ordered not to dispense two drugs touted as a potential “cures” for coronavirus.
The directive came after Australian pharmacies saw a rush of people presenting scripts for the drugs hydroxychloroquine — sold as Plaquenil — and chloroquine from their GPs, or asking to buy it over the counter.
Shane Jackson tweet
Demand skyrocketed following a press conference by US President Donald Trump last week, in which he touted the drugs as a “game changer” — comments based on a World Health Organisation report labelling the drugs a “potentially useful” preventative and curative treatment for COVID-19.
Pharmaceutical Society of Australia president Chris Freeman said Australian pharmacies had seen unprecedented demand for the medications, creating a shortage for patients who actually needed them.
Dr Freeman has asked pharmacists to keep their supplies of hydroxychloroquine safe, and pharmacists have written to the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) to ask their members to stop prescribing it.
Jacinda Ardern says New Zealand as a whole must go into self-isolation
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is ordering New Zealanders into self-isolation, saying tens of thousands of people will die if the country does not act now.
“This is not a decision taken lightly. But it is our best chance to slow the virus and to save lives,” she said.
“Staying at home is essential. It’s a simple, but highly effective, way to constrain the virus.”
The restrictions include:
Non-essential businesses in New Zealand must now close (all bars, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, pools, libraries, etc)Takeaway services must also move to close their operationsEvery workplace must implement alternative ways of workingSchools will be closed (but not to children of essential workers such as doctors)
There are currently 102 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Zealand.
ASX plunges with most sectors in red
Australia’s economic shutdown and a closure of some state borders has seen investors take flight, with nearly $100 billion lost from the value of shares.
The ASX 200 index fell 5.6 per cent or 271 points to 4,546, with most sectors in the red, led by banks and consumer stocks.
The benchmarket index is back to where it was in late November 2012.
It comes as large parts of the Australian economy shut down amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic, with the closure of non-essential businesses and some states shutting their borders.
The Australian dollar is down 1 per cent to 57.6 US cents.
Fourth federal politician tests positive for coronavirus
Another federal politician has tested positive for coronavirus, with South Australian senator Rex Patrick confirming he’s the fourth politician to be infected.
Senator Rex Patrick coronavirus tweet
The Centre Alliance senator has been in self-isolation since coming into contact with Liberal senator Andrew Bragg, who recently returned a positive test.
This brings the list of infected federal politicians to:
Centre Alliance senator Rex PatrickLiberal senator Andrew BraggHome Affairs Minister Peter DuttonLNP senator Susan McDonald
Senator Patrick says he’s working with authorities to help them figure out who he’s been in contact with.
Minister steps back on MyGov cyber-attack claim
The Minister for Government Services has walked back suggestions the Federal Government’s MyGov website was hit by a cyber attack.
Earlier, Stuart Robert said the website, which is the online portal for many Centrelink services, had been hit by a “denial of service” attack.
That sort of attack floods a website with users, stopping people accessing it.
Mr Robert has since told Question Time the high number of people logging on to the site to claim unemployment benefits mirrored such an attack, triggering internal alarms.
He said there was no evidence of a specific attack today.
Demand for MyGov services has risen dramatically, with many Australians who have been stood down due to extra coronavirus restrictions seeking access to unemployment benefits.
Photos showed queues outside some Centrelink offices stretching around the block this morning.
The Government is doubling dole payments as it seeks to cushion the economy from the devastating impacts of the pandemic.
Queensland becomes the latest state to close its borders
Annastacia Palaszczuk tweet: “Cabinet has decided to close Queensland’s borders. I’ll bring you more detail soon”
The Queensland Government will close the state’s borders beginning at midnight on Wednesday.
The initial stage of the restriction will force anyone entering Queensland to quarantine themselves for 14 days after arrival.
Authorities will convene in the coming days to establish how road-based restrictions can later be placed along the state’s borders.
Freight is expected to be exempt from the restrictions.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said local elections scheduled for March 28 would still go ahead.
However, Queensland’s chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said there would be no sausage sizzles or fetes.
“Just go straight in, vote, and straight out. The risk of doing that is absolutely minimal,” she said.
The number of coronavirus cases in Queensland has risen by 60 in the past 24 hours, to a total of 319.
Australian athletes told to prepare for 2021 Olympic Games
The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) has told Australian athletes to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics to be delayed for a year.
The AOC’s executive board unanimously agreed that the coronavirus pandemic meant that an Australian team could not be assembled.
The statement came just after the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) said it would not send its athletes to Tokyo in July.
The COC said it was not safe for athletes, their families, and the broader Canadian community for athletes to continue training for the Games.
Earlier, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) set a deadline of four weeks to decide what to do with the Games.
The options being considered are postponing the Games or holding a scaled-down version, but the IOC has said that cancellation is not an option.
Victorian schools closing, NSW wants parents to keep kids at home
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced that he’s bringing forward school holidays as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, making today the last day of school for pupils before the start of the Easter break.
But he says these holidays should not be treated as normal.
“Every Australian has been advised not to undertake non-essential travel, and I’m advising every family that school holidays, where kids might be going and staying at friends’ places, kids might be going to shopping malls and doing all the usual things, that is not appropriate,” he said.
Mr Andrews said Victorian families should still plan for term two to begin on April 14, but said the state was planning for “remote, flexible, distance learning” in case that became necessary.
In New South Wales, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said schools in the state would remain open, but encouraged parents to keep their children at home.
“For parents that have no option, for parents that are workers, school is safe for children to attend and schools will remain open,” she said.
Ms Berejiklian said about one-third of children in the state were absent from school last week.
States and territories go their own ways on schools
These are some of the other announcements we’ve had on schools:
In Canberra, the ACT Government said most students should stay home from Tuesday onwards, but exceptions would be made for children of “essential” workersIn Tasmania, Premier Peter Gutwein said public schools would remain open “for the time being” and term dates would not change, but parents who wished to keep children home may do so from this WednesdayIn Queensland, schools will remain open until the last day of term (April 3), but parents can choose to keep their children at homeThe NT Government says from tomorrow, for the rest of this term, the decision to send kids to school will be a choice for parentsIn Western Australia, state schools will remain open until the end of term, but parents can choose not to send their kids
Harvey Weinstein tests positive for coronavirus
Former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, who is serving a prison sentence for sexual assault and rape, has tested positive for coronavirus, according to a union boss.
Michael Powers, president of the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, said the 68-year-old had been placed in isolation at Wende Correctional Facility.
Mr Powers said he was concerned that prison staff, some of whom have been quarantined, lacked proper protective equipment.
Weinstein arrived at Wende Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison east of Buffalo, New York, on Wednesday after being housed at New York City’s Rikers Island jail.
He was sentenced to 23 years in prison on March 11 for sexually assaulting former production assistant Mimi Haleyi and raping Jessica Mann, a onetime aspiring actress.
Victoria Police taskforce to enforce coronavirus shutdown
Victoria has announced a special taskforce of 500 police to enforce a shutdown of non-essential venues and businesses in the state.
Premier Daniel Andrews said many Australians had been “acting selfishly” by ignoring social-distancing rules, and warned “people will die” if the measures were not followed.
It comes as Victoria recorded another 59 cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 355.
Germany bans groups of three or more, Merkel in quarantine
@kbrady90 Angela Merkel announces further Germany-wide #COVID19 restrictions
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced in a televised press briefing that Germany will ban public meetings of more than two people.
“The great aim is to gain time in the fight against the virus,” she said, citing an agreement between the federal government and regional states.
For at least the next two weeks, people will not be allowed to form groups of three or more in public unless they live together in the same household, or the gathering is work-related.
Ms Merkel went into quarantine on Sunday (local time) after coming into contact with a coronavirus-infected doctor.
She will continue her work from home and will submit to repeated tests over the next few days, her spokesman said in a statement, adding it was too soon for a conclusive test yet.
Germany has the fifth-highest number of coronavirus cases globally at 23,794, based on data collated by Johns Hopkins University. The data also shows that 266 Germans have recovered from the virus, while 92 have died.
North Melbourne football players apologise for ‘inappropriate’ party
After the AFL postponed the season yesterday, North Melbourne players Nick Larkey and Cameron Zurhaar held a party at their Kensington home and hosted at least 10 people, according to two neighbours.
Health officials have told Victorians to work from home if they can, avoid non-essential gatherings, and stay at least 1.5 metres away from others where possible.
The AFL club said the players understood the party was “inappropriate in the current climate”.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said today that a shutdown of bars and pubs did not mean it was time to “have your mates around and get on the beers”, and that risk-taking and not adhering to social-distancing advice could kill people.
All McDonald’s stores in the UK and Ireland to close
McDonald’s tweet: “An update from McDonald’s UK and Ireland — See you soon”
McDonald’s says all of its restaurants in the UK and Ireland will be closed by 7:00pm Monday local time at the latest, in order to protect its employees and customers.
“This is not a decision we are taking lightly, but one made with the wellbeing and safety of our employees in mind as well as in the best interests of our customers,” the company said in a statement.
There are about 1,300 McDonald’s restaurants in the UK, with approximately 120,000 employees.
US senator tests positive, mobile hospital centres to be sent to California and New York
Republican senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who voted against bills to fund the fight against coronavirus, has tested positive for COVID-19.
The announcement was made on the Trump ally’s Twitter account:
Rand Paul tweet: “Senator Rand Paul has tested positive for COVID-19. He is feeling fine and is in quarantine. He is asymptomatic and was tested out of an abundance of caution due to his extensive travel and events. He was not aware of any direct contact with any infected person.”
Mr Paul was among eight Senate Republicans who voted against a bill that provided more than $US100 billion ($173 billion) to boost testing for the coronavirus and guarantee paid sick leave for millions of workers.
He was also the only Republican senator to oppose an earlier bill authorising $US8.3 billion ($14.4 billion) for the initial response to the pandemic.
US President Donald Trump has ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to ship mobile hospital centres to the hard-hit American states of Washington, California and New York amid the coronavirus pandemic.
For New York, that would mean another 1,000 hospital beds.
State and local leaders have appealed to the White House to provide far more. Mr Trump has so far held off on using his full authorities under the Defence Production Act to marshal the private sector’s capabilities.
Deaths in Italy jump by 651 in 24 hours
The number of deaths of people with coronavirus in Italy has jumped 651 to 5,476 in 24 hours, while new infections rose by 10 per cent to over 59,000.
The head of Italy’s Civil Protection Agency, Angelo Borrelli, noted that the increases had narrowed from recent days.
“We hope that this trend can be confirmed in the coming days. We should not lower our guard,” he said.
On Saturday (local time), the death toll rose by 793 and new cases increased by 6,557.
UK citizens warned of tougher measures
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned Britain may need to impose curfews and travel restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus if people do not heed the Government’s advice on social distancing.
Pubs, clubs and gyms have already closed, but social media on Sunday was awash with pictures of people congregating in parks and food markets, apparently ignoring advice to stay two metres apart.
“You’ve got to do this in line with the advice, you’ve got to follow the social distancing rule, keep two metres apart,” Mr Johnson said at a news conference at Downing Street.
Mr Johnson said tougher measures like curfews needed to be timed right for maximum impact.
The latest official statistics show the UK’s number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose to 5,683 on Sunday, up from 5,018 on Saturday — suggesting they are now rising more rapidly in Britain than they did in either China or Italy at the same stage, according to a Sky News analysis.
Australia’s case numbers
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Australia has passed 1,600.
Here is a state-by-state breakdown of the cases:
NSW: 669 (six deaths)Victoria: 355Queensland: 319WA: 140 (one death)SA: 100Tasmania: 22ACT: 32NT: 5
These figures come from state and territory databases of confirmed COVID-19 cases. The latest update was just before 3:15pm AEDT on Monday, March 23
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March 23, 2020 04:48:34