Australia .. Panic appears to be growing in Melbourne where authorities are trying to track down 70 patients who saw a doctor prior to him being confirmed to have coronavirus.
Victorian health authorities are trying to contact about 70 patients of a Melbourne doctor who was diagnosed with coronavirus a week after returning from the US.
The doctor is the state’s 11th case of the novel coronavirus and the state health minister, Jenny Mikakos, said he attended work and treated patients after he was symptomatic.
Concerns for 70 patients after Melbourne doctor tests positive for coronavirus
“I have to say I am flabbergasted that a doctor that has flu-like symptoms has presented to work,” Mikakos said.
“He became unwell with a runny nose on an internal flight from Denver to San Francisco on February 27, US time, then flew to from San Francisco to Melbourne on United Airlines flight UA60, arriving at approximately 9.30am Saturday 29 February.”
The doctor saw approximately 70 patients last week between Monday 2 March and Friday 6 March at the Toorak Clinic on Malvern Road. The clinic has been since closed.
Patients have been contacted by text message, phone or email and two patients the doctor treated in a Malvern nursing home have been isolated.
Melbourne GP clinic closed after doctor tests positive for coronavirus
All patients the doctor saw and all clinic staff have been asked to self-isolate for 14 days. The clinic’s other patients have been asked to monitor their symptoms.
“Our advice to the community is that if you have returned from overseas and are experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms than please stay home, do not go to work, you should self isolate until such time as you are able to be presenting to a doctor, getting medical advice about whether you potentially have Covid-19,” Mikakos said.
“I understand our medical and healthcare workers are dedicated to the work they do. It is incredibly important work and they are absolutely committed to their patients and I understand, particularly at this time of, I guess, an international health emergency, that all healthcare workers would be wanting to assist their patients. But it is irresponsible for people to be going to work if they are unwell, and that is not just healthcare workers, it is everybody in the community who needs to take this very seriously.”
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She said the doctor’s symptoms were mild, as 80% of coronavirus cases had been globally, but that his decision to continue to treat patients was something for the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency to pursue.
“It is very important that what may present as a mild case is still taken seriously, because we know this is a disease, a virus that is easily transmitting in the community, as we have seen from the fact that we now have more than 100,000 cases internationally, and it is important that we are all alive to the risks.”
Passengers on the flight with the doctor would also be contacted, Mikakos said, but added there were no other public exposure sites for the case.
The minister urged those who believed they may have been on the same flight to call the 1800 657 398 hotline.
She said Victoria had not yet had a case of community transmission of Covid-19.
Victoria’s chief medical officer, Dr Brett Sutton, urged people to get tested immediately if they suspected they had coronavirus rather than going to work with cold-like symptoms.
“We have all done [that] in the past. We are now at the stage with this illness that we have a particular obligation, and we have a particular obligation as healthcare workers, to exclude ourselves until we can assure a patients that we are not a risk to them,” he said.
“We can turn test around within 24 hours, so you should not feel shy about getting tested so you can reassure yourself about returning to work.”
Anyone who has symptoms should call the hotline before presenting to a GP’s clinic.
Mikakos said the Doherty Institute in Melbourne was working to develop a 20-minute pin-prick diagnostic test for the disease. However she said estimates for a vaccine were still that it would not be available for 12 to 18 months.
Sutton also urged those who were unwell to self-isolate and particularly avoid public transport and public gatherings until they had been tested.
However Mikakos said there was no need for panic-buying of supplies.
“Have enough of what you need if you need to self isolate for 14 days; that does not mean filling up your home and garage with toilet rolls,” she said.
Australian deputy chief medical officer Prof Paul Kelly said the government will make 260,000 masks available and that it is considering stockpiling some pharmaceuticals, including antibacterial and antiviral medicines.
“We may be able to take it under control but that’s looking increasingly unlikely ... it may become endemic, so something that comes back around each winter,” he said.
He warned that people, including health professionals, should not continue to go to work if they have symptoms.
“Don’t soldier on ... we expect our health care workforce particularly to take this onboard.”
New South Wales health authorities, meanwhile, were seeking to track down passengers on a Qatar Airways flight from Doha after a man in his 70s was among six new cases of the deadly virus diagnosed in the state.
The state government on Saturday announced that an additional six cases of Covid-19 had been discovered, bringing the NSW total number to 34.
Australia coronavirus cases rise sharply to more
All the new cases were close contacts or family members of previously confirmed cases except for a man who contracted the virus after visiting Italy.
He fell ill day the day after flying back to Sydney via Qatar. NSW Health said it was attempting to contact passengers on Qatar Airways flight QR908 which left Doha on 1 March.
“Screening continues at Sydney international Airport,” NSW Health said in a statement. “As at midnight 7 March, a total of 23,814 passengers have been assessed, and a total of 77 were sent for testing.”