COVID-19: Tas to close borders, Vic boosts health sector

By Shannon Jenkins

Thursday March 19, 2020


Tasmania will close its borders, the Queensland government is granting its chief health officer stronger powers, and the Victorian government is boosting its health system with $437 million, all in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Announced on Thursday, Victorian hospitals will receive $115m to cover thousands of extra emergency department presentations, hospital admissions, and intensive care unit admissions, while $107m will buy new equipment, including 4000 high flow oxygen therapy units for patients in acute respiratory failure, 130 dialysis machines, and 1200 patient monitors.

More than $80m will fund an increase in beds over the next 12 weeks, “in time for the peak of the pandemic”, according to Premier Daniel Andrews and Health minister Jenny Mikakos, while $97m will be set aside to backfill the healthcare workforce “in the event that staff need to self-isolate”.

On top of the previously announced $10m for personal protective equipment, the government will provide $22m to buy 275m pairs of gloves, 8.6m face masks, and 1.7m gowns.

Public health staff will be supported with $37m to increase surveillance across the state, allowing for more targeted case identification, contact tracing, isolation advice and confirmation of individuals who are no longer infectious. The contact tracing team will increase from 57 to 230 people.

The package adds to the $100m elective surgery funding announced on Sunday, which will “see more than 7000 Victorians fast-tracked for urgent procedures before the pandemic peak hits”, according to Mikakos and Andrews.

Mikakos said the funding would give health professionals the “best possible chance” of managing the challenges of the coronavirus.

“This funding boost is about looking ahead and making sure our hard-working doctors, nurses, paramedics and public health clinicians have everything they need to tackle this pandemic head on,” she said.

Read more: Vic, ACT declare state of emergency

Tas to close borders

Meanwhile, Tasmania will become the first state to close its borders under a state of emergency.

Premier Peter Gutwein said the borders will close from Friday, meaning anyone arriving by plane or ship will have to self-quarantine for two weeks — excluding health and emergency services workers.

Gutwein said anyone who does not self-quarantine will be fined up to $16,800 or six months jail time.

“We make no apologies for that. We know that for some it will create disruption, but our aim is to ensure that we protect the health, wellbeing and safety of Tasmanians,” he said on Thursday.

“I want to make it very clear. We expect people to abide by the law. There can be no excuse for not self-quarantining, for not abiding by the rules.”

Essential supplies will still be allowed into the state, he noted.

Read more: Planned cuts to Tasmanian government agencies removed under coronavirus stimulus package

Qld modifies electoral laws

On Wednesday night, the Queensland government passed laws granting the state’s chief health officer and senior hospital staff greater powers to force individuals into isolation, and introduced a $13,000 fine for those who defy orders from health officials.

The state also altered its electoral laws, giving it the power to suspend the upcoming council elections and state government by-elections, and extend postal vote return dates, if necessary.

The constitution was modified to allow for Parliament to convene via video conferencing.

Supermarkets and chemists will also be able to remain open longer if required.

Local Government minister Stirling Hinchliffe said the urgent measures have been taken to “maximise public safety, minimise public health risks and maintain our democratic processes for local government elections in the face of an evolving public health emergency”.

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