Confusion has emerged over how private hospitals will balance patient lists when elective surgery returns, with the possibility Victorians on the public wait list could be prioritised.
A quarter of waiting lists for elective surgery will reopen on Monday after a month-long suspension for most category two and three procedures.
But questions have been raised into how these beds will be allocated across private and public hospitals after the Andrews Government struck a deal to run the two sectors together.
The deal was made to ensure capacity for any surge in coronavirus patients while also providing support for the loss of revenue private clinics would feel without elective surgery.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos on Monday said people on the state’s public waiting list now had priority to access beds in the private system.
“We have secured an arrangement with the private hospitals to prioritise public patients,” she said.
“Private patients need to negotiate with their own doctor. We play no role in that.
“Public patients have got priority in terms of access to hospital beds.
“Now I think that’s a pretty good outcome for Victorian taxpayers where Victorian taxpayer’s money is being used to keep the private hospital system viable into the future.”
When asked if this meant some patients would miss out on beds, Ms Mikakos said the two sectors were on separate waiting lists.
CORONAVIRUS NUMBERS STAY STABLE
Two new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Victoria overnight, bringing the state’s total to 1336.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the statewide tally was the same as yesterday because two previously confirmed cases in Victoria had been transferred to other state tallies.
“I can confirm that there are 1336 cases of coronavirus in Victoria. That is the same total as yesterday, but there are, in fact, two new cases,” Mr Andrews said.
“Two have been removed on the basis that they have been added to interstate tallies. That’s where they tested positive.
“As you know, these numbers do jump around a little bit from day to day, and there are sometimes a few little corrections that are made.”
There are 29 people in hospital, including 12 in intensive care, with 88,000 tests completed in Victoria.
But Mr Andrews warned if restrictions were relaxed too quickly and too broadly case numbers would go back to doubling every few days and even stricter lockdowns would be necessary.
“That’s what has occurred in other countries, so it’s not just a matter of opinion or modelling, it’s the real experience,” he said.
Mr Andrews said if people continued to do the right thing with the same sense or urgency then there would be options in a few weeks’ time.
WOOLWORTHS REOPENS DELIVERY TO ALL CUSTOMERS
Woolworths is resuming online shopping for all customers, opening tens of thousands of extra home delivery windows from this week.
Orders will be capped at 40 items and will be delivered the next day.
Online shopping was temporarily suspended for the majority of customers five weeks ago as major supermarkets focused on getting essentials to the vulnerable.
Coles has also told customers it was reopening Click&Collect and home delivery services from today.
Woolworths said it was doubling its online capacity, with hundreds of supermarkets nationwide and a new “pop-up” delivery hub warehouse in Notting Hill in Melbourne’s southeast opening at the end of the week helping fulfil extra demand.
The supermarket has also partnered with couriers Sherpa and Drive Yello.
The couriers have signed up more than 5000 new delivery drivers to help meet soaring demand for online groceries.
WooliesX Managing Director Amanda Bardwell said: “We’re seeing a big increase in demand for home delivery as more and more customers seek to limit their outings in the community.
“While our first priority remains the most vulnerable in the community, we can now serve many more of our regular online customers, including Delivery Unlimited subscribers, as well.”
The pop-up delivery hub has been set up at a warehouse that won’t open to walk-up shoppers. It will employ more than 400 Melburnians.
VICTORIA BRACING FOR HUGE ECONOMIC FALLOUT
Victoria’s economic output is forecast to drop by $32 billion — or more than $1 billion a week — over the next six months.
The state government released the first official figures on the devastating consequences of the pandemic, combining the economic downturn with a fall in property values and a rise in unemployment.
The data predicts 270,000 jobs will be lost in the state, with state Treasurer Tim Pallas saying the peak unemployment rate expected in the September quarter.
The unemployment rate is expected to reach 11 per cent, which is double the level the state is currently experiencing.
Modelling by the Department of Treasury and Finance has forecast Gross State Product to be 14 per cent lower than the pre-virus predicted $226 billion for the June and September quarters. The revised figure puts the state’s economic output at $194 billion.
Property prices are expected to fall by as much as 9 per cent, which would cut almost $80,000 off Melbourne’s $860,000 median house value.
“What we will also see is that gross state product, the size of the Victorian economy will not be as big as we’d anticipated it would be,” he said.
Mr Pallas said three weeks ago he thought the worst-case economic scenario of the state would be better than the position it’s in today.
“We expect Victoria will be substantially hit, more, perhaps, than other states,” he said.
“This modelling paints a bleak and devastating picture for our economy.
“But in Victoria we have the capacity to help those who need it most and recover.”
Tourism, hospitality and international education are the worst affected industries in the state, Mr Pallas said.
It comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed the federal government had processed 517,000 claims for unemployment benefits since March 16. By the end of this week, it will have processed as many JobSeeker claims in six weeks as it would usually handle in a year.
Victoria’s GSP was forecast to grow by 2.5 per cent in 2019-20 and by 2.9 per cent in 2020-21 before COVID-19 struck.
The government is now preparing for a much longer economic recovery period than initially expected.
Mr Pallas said Victoria was well positioned to help businesses, workers and their families get through this crisis.
As part of the recovery the government will seek $24.5 billion to set up an emergency fund when parliament sits on Thursday.
Announcing the fund last week, Mr Pallas said Victoria was well placed economically and maintained its AAA credit rating.
But he said he had been warned that could be affected by Commonwealth debt.
Mr Andrews flagged the state’s infrastructure pipeline could grow to support jobs across the state.
“We’ve got the biggest construction agenda in our nation and certainly the biggest in our state’s history,” he said.
“That is going to need to get bigger. We’re going to even do more in roads, rail, hospitals and schools.
The state government will also defer its planned increase to the landfill levy until January 21 next year in an effort to save taxpayers $33 million in 2020.
Treasurer Tim Pallas said the Victorian government would continue to be involved in discussions about the future of Virgin Australia.
It comes after it was revealed the state had weighed up a rescue bid for the airline in the days before it collapsed in voluntary administration.
Mr Pallas said any possible buyout would need to deliver benefits for the state.
“We would expect to see more jobs come to Victoria,” he said.
RENTAL REFORMS DELAYED
Several of Victoria’s rental law reforms will be delayed from coming into effect for six months amid the coronavirus crisis.
All 130 amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act — which included introducing minimum standards for properties, allowing renters to make minor modifications to their homes, and banning no-reason evictions — were due to come into force by July 1.
But the state government has now stated it will postpone the start date of a number of the reforms to January 1, 2021.
RULE BREAKERS SLAPPED WITH HEFTY FINES
Three people have been fined for breaching strict stay-at-home rules after booking a short-stay accommodation to hang out and take drugs.
A total of 1043 spot checks were conducted at homes and businesses yesterday to ensure compliance with the state’s COVID-19 stay home laws.
Ninety-five fines were issued, including the fine given to the trio.
Also included in the fines were multiple young people who were caught leaving a friend’s house after a night of playing video games and two people intercepted in a car in Box Hill.
The driver of that vehicle was also unlicensed, and the passenger was found possessing a weapon.
There have been 26,857 checks conducted since March 21.
IMPROVING THE GLOBAL RESPONSE TO CORONAVIRUS
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has held talks with US President Donald Trump about improving the international response to the coronavirus pandemic.
It is understood the pair spoke this morning, comparing notes on their responses to the crisis and the need to get their economies up and running as soon as possible.
The talks also focused on the importance of transparency and co-operation internationally, including with the World Health Organisation, after Mr Trump cut its funding over concerns about its handling of the virus’s origins in China.
Mr Morrison also focused on Australia’s efforts to support our neighbours in the Pacific and southeast Asia.
It is understood he has also spoken recently to French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
PARENTS LOCKED OUT OF ‘FREE’ CHILDCARE
Families desperate for childcare say they have been locked out of the sector despite a change to government funding designed to safeguard places for parents returning to work.
Coronavirus chaos at childcare centres led to plunging enrolments, with the Morrison Government forced to step in early this month with a $1.6 billion package to keep operators going.
The new funding system provides about 50 per cent of centre subsidies for enrolments they had on March 2, which meant those that experienced an exodus of parents after that date weren’t disadvantaged.
The changes meant care was free for parents who had places secured, but has left other parents struggling to find care due to operators cutting back hours to meet new funding levels.
NO CHECKS ON VIRUS RELAPSE
Victorians who have tested positive for COVID-19 are not being monitored to find out whether the virus returns.
There are concerns the killer virus could strike twice but Victorian authorities have no plans to test patients who have recovered.
In South Korea at least 179 coronavirus patients have again tested positive for the dangerous bug.
But Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the results of the South Korean study had to be treated with caution.
“We do know from SARS, a closely related coronavirus, that infected individuals appeared to develop immunity for some years,” Prof Sutton said. “People with COVID-19 are developing antibodies and re-exposure with this coronavirus in an animal study demonstrated that reinfection did not occur.
“Victoria and other jurisdictions are working on the assumption that there is immunity at least for some weeks after infection.
“While we expect there to be a reasonable period of protection we don’t yet know exactly what that protection is or how long it’s going to last.”
Prof Sutton said Victoria would follow the evidence and consider whether a national research project was needed.
He said there was evidence people who had recovered and re clinically well were not infecting others.
People who have tested positive and can provide medical clearance are also eligible to apply for an exemption from serving mandatory quarantine.
Six exemptions have been provided due to coronavirus immunity, including a couple who spent four weeks in isolation in Austria after testing positive to COVID-19.
On their return to Melbourne last week they were still forced to quarantine for a week while Austrian medical documents were translated.
It comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the National Cabinet had backed a tracing app “in principle”.
“There are a few more hurdles for this to clear, but it was absolutely seen as an important tool,” he said.
“This does three things. Firstly it protects Australians in their own health and those of their own family by participating in this process.
“Secondly, it helps other Australians to keep them safe and, thirdly, it ensures that we can more effectively get back to a more normal setting where we have widespread take-up of this app.”
Mr Morrison said the app data could only be accessed by state health departments.
HOW DOES THE COVID-19 TRACKING APP WORK?
It does not track your location, but uses Bluetooth to identify when a person comes into close contact — about 1.5m — with someone else who also has the app installed and makes a log of the interaction if it lasts for at least 15 minutes.
The app collects four things — a name, mobile number, age and postcode.
The postcode is used to determine which state or territory health authority should be sent the contact tracing information.
Government Services Minister Stuart Robert said the app essentially digitises a current “manual process”.
“If you contract the virus, health officials will sit down (with you) and say ‘who have you been close to? Who have you chatted with? Who have you spent time with?’,” he said. “The COVID trace app digitises that.”
WHERE IS THE DATA STORED?
Once the app has collected the name and number of the other person with the app a user has come into contact with, the data is encrypted and stored locally on their phone. If that user tests positive for COVID-19, health authorities will request permission to access the log for contact tracing.
The data will go to a secure national data store, and then straight to the state or territory health authority for teams of health workers to start alerting others who may have been exposed to the virus. When a person deletes the app from their phone the data would also be deleted.
The Federal Government has also said it will be deleting the national data store after the pandemic.
PRIVACY: WHO CAN SEE THE DATA?
The user will not be able to read the log of people that they have been in contact with at any time. Mr Robert said the data will only be accessed by local health authorities in the relevant state or territory.
“I’m not interested in where you are on the face of the earth,” he said. “State Health authorities are (only) interested in who you’re with for the purpose of determining whether they’ve got a potentially life-threatening virus, so it’s nothing to do with government knowing where you are. It’s a health response. The data can only be used for health purposes, and once it’s been used, it gets destroyed.”
More details about the app are expected to be released by the government in the coming weeks.
ELECTIVE SURGERIES TO RESUME
Elective surgeries suspended during the coronavirus crisis will start again on Monday, with hospitals expected to reopen about a quarter of operating waiting lists.
Joint replacements, IVF treatments, cataract surgeries, post-cancer reconstructive procedures and all operations required by children will be the focus of what Prime Minister Scott Morrison said would be a gradual restart to help patients in need.
But he said other restrictions put in place by the national cabinet to tackle the pandemic — including business closures, social distancing rules and limits on gatherings — would remain in place until at least May 14.
‘Our plan is working, our plan is saving lives and livelihoods,” Mr Morrison said.
“We need to stick to our plan.”
He said states with tougher measures than the national cabinet’s baselines, including Victoria, could look to ease those rules before the middle of next month. Victoria’s state of emergency, used to enforce unprecedented stay-at-home laws, is currently in place until May 11.
Category two and three elective procedures — required within 90 days and within a year — have been suspended since March 26 to free up beds in the event of an influx of coronavirus patients and preserve supplies of personal protective equipment for health workers.
Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said she would work with health services to implement the restart in a safe manner, with all category two and some important category three procedures allowed to proceed.
“This will happen in a staged process — beginning with those that are most urgent within the expanded categories," she said.
About 50,000 Victorians had already been on those waiting lists at the start of the year.
Endoscopy and colonoscopy procedures, screening programs for cancer and other diseases, eye surgeries and dental work including basic fillings and fitting dentures and braces have also been cleared to restart.
The new rules will be reviewed in two weeks and in four weeks to make sure patients are not causing coronavirus outbreaks, and that hospitals have enough equipment and capacity to handle elective surgeries.