Australia

Australia ramps up coronavirus testing to include anyone with respiratory symptoms

Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy and Prime Minister Scott Morrison give a coronavirus update, Friday, April 24, 2020. Source: AAP

All states and territories in Australia have expanded their coronavirus testing criteria, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison has asked aged care homes to lift bans on visitors and stop confining residents to rooms.

Australia is planning to significantly boost its coronavirus testing regime to include anyone with acute respiratory symptoms.  

Following a national cabinet meeting on Friday, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy announced all states and territories would expand their testing criteria to ensure any community transmission was being picked up. 

"Anyone with acute respiratory symptoms - cough, sore throat, runny nose, cold symptoms, flu-like symptoms - can get tested," he said.  

“We’re pretty confident that most of them will be negative, but this will give us a really broad reach of what we call passive surveillance.” 

“National cabinet is very clear that they want to be absolutely confident before relaxing any measures that we are in a position in this country to detect any community transmission of any significance.” 

Friday’s national cabinet meeting also discussed reports of aged care facilities refusing visitors and locking residents in their rooms. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said if facilities that had gone beyond baseline coronavirus requirements did not return to that level and allow each resident two visitors a day, his government would make it mandatory.

Mr Morrison said nursing homes would have to argue why they had a "very real and serious medical reason" to need a tighter lockdown.

"It's not my inclination to explore that sort of regulatory approach, but if it's necessary then we'll do it," he told reporters. 

Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy and Prime Minister Scott Morrison give a coronavirus update at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Friday, April 24, 2020.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Brendan Murphy and Prime Minister Scott Morrison give a coronavirus update at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra
AAP

Aged care facilities, such as the Dorothy Henderson Lodge in Sydney, have been at the centre of serious coronavirus clusters, but Mr Morrison said it was important family members could support their loved ones.

"The very clear medical advice that we have is that these visits are quite safe when they're done in the right circumstances," he said.

 

‘We need to have more tests’

Earlier on Friday, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state was planning to check more than 8,000 people per day under the expanded testing regime. 

"We want to see the number of tests go up above 8,000 a day,” she told reporters.

“As we consider easing restrictions, we need to have more tests."

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said anyone in the state "who has even the slightest sniffle" should be tested.

"We need to crush this virus," he said. 

As of Friday afternoon, there are over 6,670 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Australia and 78 deaths.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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