Army on standby as state braces for outbreak
AUTHORITIES are bracing for up to three in four Queenslanders to be infected by a coronavirus outbreak as it draws up plans to bolster the state's health workforce with retired doctors and army medicos.
The Courier-Mail can reveal some of the State Government's contingency plans to deal with a large-scale outbreak as more and more cases are diagnosed across Australia.
Private doctors and nurses may be asked to join the public system to plug gaps, medical staff may be asked to come out of retirement, and Defence Force medicos and university medical staff may be called on.
The Courier-Mail understands Queensland Health is expecting the spread of the disease to ramp up from the end of April into May.
While upwards of 25 per cent of the state may initially contract the virus, that number could grow to 70 per cent beyond the next 12 months.
Queensland Health is also understood to be preparing for COVID-19 to potentially be significantly worse than a normal flu season.
The number of people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Queensland reached 14 this week after a man, 81, who had recently returned to the Sunshine Coast from Thailand, tested positive. A Brisbane woman, 29, who had flown home from London via Singapore, was also diagnosed. Now a 28-year-old man who recently returned from Iran has been confirmed as having the virus.
Chief Health Officer Jeanette Young yesterday reassured Queenslanders the disease was being contained effectively.
"No one should be panicking," she said.
"This is another disease that is spreading through a community as we have with lots of diseases, we just need to be aware of it, be alert to it, and we don't want it to spread."
About 2700 notices have been issued to people across Queensland to voluntarily self-isolate in case they have contracted COVID-19.
Dr Young said every person had complied and that more than 1500 people had now been tested.
As part of the Government's contingency plans, HHS staff may be redeployed across the state to areas that need them while virtual clinics may also be set up to allow quarantined staff to still contribute by working from home.
Non-urgent surgeries may be postponed in a bid to free up capacity for people needing urgent care while making more space to cater for isolation areas in hospitals.
Hospitals are prepared to triple emergency department capacity and double intensive care unit capacity if required.
The State Government conducted training yesterday, covering several scenarios including a regional-based response to help prepare for a potential pandemic.
Dr Young said older people, particularly those over the age of 80 who have chronic diseases, were the most vulnerable groups.
Children and pregnant women were not more vulnerable than anyone else.
"The vast majority of people who are younger will get mild cases (if they catch it)," Dr Young said.
Dr Young said Queensland Health had seen an increased number of people using emergency departments but said it was good as it helped dictate where fever clinics should be established.
She said every hospital in Queensland had capacity to set up a clinic.
Menzies Health Institute Queensland infectious diseases and immunology director Professor Nigel McMillan said a vaccine for the virus was about 12-18 months away.
"My best guess is this (coronavirus) will be with us for the next six months at least - I am hoping for a slow progression with cases popping up every week but being controlled via isolation and contact tracing rather than an uncontrolled and rapid spread," he said.
"We know from overseas experience that the current way we are going about this - isolation, monitoring incoming passengers, contact tracing - is working well in other locations such as Singapore.
"If we can keep this going then the more drastic things like shutting schools and large events will be minimised."
Prof McMillan said if a student or staff member was sick and had been attending school, the closure and isolation of all people who had come into contact with the patient was needed.
Asked about the potential closure of schools, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said there wasn't a specific threshold, with advice to be taken from the Queensland Education Department and the Chief Health Officer.
People are being urged to wash their hands, stay home when sick and stay 1.5m from anyone who coughs or sneezes.
People are also being reminded to avoid touching other people if it's not necessary, including shaking hands, hugging or kissing.
From what is known about cases in China, about 81 per cent of people only develop a mild illness and recover easily.