Coronavirus: Palaszczuk says federal government too slow to act

Three thousand Queenslanders have been ordered into self-isolation to stop the spread of coronavirus, as the state’s premier Annastacia Palaszczuk criticised the federal government’s efforts to coordinate a response to the virus outbreak with the states as too slow.

The prime minister announced on Friday that the federal government would offer the states a funding arrangement where public health costs from coronarvirus would be split 50-50 between the commonwealth and the states, a marginal improvement on the current 45%-55% split.

Morrison said the coronavirus could cost the country’s public health systems – across emergency departments, GPs, preventative care and other health interventions – up to $1bn.

“The Commonwealth, on executing those agreements will immediately put $100m down as an advance through the normal distribution mechanism to the states, to ensure that they are in a position to immediately meet those costs.”

But Palaszczuk said efforts to coordinate the health response across Australia’s federal system had been too slow.

“I have been asking this since the end of January, that the minister should have convened a COAG meeting of all states and territories on the specific topic of coronavirus to ensure that our national response and our state responses are ready.

“I am still concerned that we have not had a dedicated national meeting where we can discuss this in depth.”

Three thousand people in Queensland have been instructed to self-isolate after returning from China and Iran. So far, only 13 have tested positive for Covid-19.

The state’s chief health officer, Jeannette Young, said residents were complying with the voluntary self-isolation orders, and there was no cause for broader alarm.

“No one should be panicking, this is another disease that is spreading through our community, as we have with lots of other diseases … we want to minimise its spread where we can, because we know everyone’s susceptible,” Young said.

She said 80% of people infected by Sars-Cov-2 – the virus that causes Covid-19 – would be only mildly unwell, to the extent of barely knowing they were sick. Older people, particularly those over 80, and those with chronic conditions, were most vulnerable to the illness.

Brisbane’s Prince Charles Hospital opened a fever clinic on Friday afternoon to deal with a spike in the number of people presenting to the hospital with fears they were infected.

Schools around the country have been affected by the outbreak.

Almost 1,200 students at Epping Boys High School in Sydney’s north were told to stay home after a 16-year-old pupil was diagnosed as having the virus on Thursday night. The infected student’s mother works at Ryde Hospital and was in contact with a doctor who has contracted the virus.

And students and staff at Rosebank College, a Catholic school in Sydney’s inner-west, have been told that anyone who travels overseas will be required to self-isolate for two weeks “regardless of what country they have travelled to”.

The school’s principal wrote to parents on Thursday saying the school was preparing “for the possible event of closure” because of the virus, and imposing a blanket ban on anyone who travelled overseas attending classes.

Calling the spread of the virus “a significant moment in human history”, principal Tom Galea said that “until further notice” any family who travelled overseas would be required to self-isolate for two weeks, regardless of where they had been.

“This includes families who have had someone within the household travel overseas.”

With 28 confirmed cases, New South Wales has had more than half of Australia’s 58 Covid-19 infections. The number of infections around the country is expected to increase further and the speed of the virus’s spread is expected to intensify. Two Australians have died.

“There is no doubt that we are not anywhere near the worst of this,” NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said. “We haven’t even hit the winter months.”

Four Australians are onboard the Grand Princess cruise ship, currently off the coast of San Francisco, with more than 2,000 passengers aboard and 45 people have tested for the virus.

The Diamond Princess cruise ship, docked off Yokohama, became an incubator for the disease, with hundreds of cases reported among passengers and crew.

Australia has prohibited the entry of visitors to Australia coming from the Republic of Korea, China, and Iran. People flying in from Italy will have to undergo advanced screening for the virus before being allowed into the country.

Eighty-five countries have been affected worldwide. There have been more than 95,000 confirmed cases, the majority in China, and more than 3350 deaths.

with Michael McGowan

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