29 March 2020

Telehealth, new social media sources and a glimmer of hope that COVID-19 curve is flattening

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Health Minister Greg Hunt

Health Minister Greg Hunt says there are “very early positive signs” that the curve is beginning to flatten. Photo: Screenshot.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says that while the rate of COVID-19 increases remains very worrying, there are glimmers of hope that the curve is beginning to flatten as infection rates drop from a 25 to 30 per cent daily increase to somewhere closer to 13 to 15 per cent.

The Prime Minister’s major announcement today concerned the immediate rollout of Telehealth from Monday morning and ways to distribute official information via a new What’s App feature and the Apple coronavirus app.

“These new messaging services enable to us to talk to many Australians about updates put in place by the State and Federal governments, with accurate and timely information on what is being done by governments around the country to support you as you work through months ahead,” Mr Morrison said.

The Prime Minister detailed $1.1 billion in additional support in four tranches. This will fund telehealth services, mental health support, domestic violence initiatives and a major boost in emergency relief; in particular, food supplies.

The major priority is a $669 million expansion of telehealth subsidies, which will allow all Australians to consult health providers by phone or video-conferencing.

A further $150 million will go towards supporting domestic violence initiatives. The Prime Minister noted the Google searches regarding domestic violence had increased by 75 per cent in recent weeks.

An additional $200 million will go towards emergency support to enable charities and community organisations to provide food relief as demand surges.

“This will be demand-driven but we anticipate more than four times the annual funding to help people who are in the most urgent need,” Mr Morrison said.

Emergency food supplier contacts are available on the Department of Social Services website but will include, among others, OzHarvest, Vinnies, the Salvation Army and Anglicare.

Mr Morrison said the national cabinet and Federal and State governments were being careful to implement measures that aligned best with Australian circumstances rather than cutting and pasting measures from other countries. He also urged employers not to take decisions before further economic measures are announced shortly.

Health Minister Greg Hunt described “a time of profound and understandable stress, anxiety, depression, isolation, and need for access to services”, but said the telehealth changes enacted in 10 days would otherwise have taken 10 years to accomplish and would mean substantial assistance was available during the crisis.

The government will also allocate $74 million to go directly towards mental health support including preventive work, including $10 million for Beyond Blue and $14.5 million for Lifeline and Kids Help.

Mr Hunt also noted $10 million in funding for older Australians and $3 million specifically for health care workers to manage the stress and issues they will experience on the frontlines.

“These are our heroes who are putting themselves out there”, he said.

Headspace will receive $7 million and Mr Hunt said a $28 million tranche of funding world be provided for psychosocial support into the future.

Bulk billing incentives have been doubled for consultations and Mr Hunt said that it was important to support face-to-face consultation where necessary, avoiding general health care collapse during the pandemic.

“The most important development is the positive early signs of flattening the curve … that is an early positive sign, but we have so much more work to do”, he said.

As of this morning, 209,000 tests had been completed in Australia with a 98 per cent negative rate, while 3809 cases have been reported nationwide.

“At this point, loss of life, terrible though it is, is well below one per cent. That will change. But the evidence we have is that we are at the global forefront”, he said.

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