Up to 1.6 million people in Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) could be hit by the first wave of a statewide coronavirus outbreak, health authorities warn, with up to 80,000 people likely to require intensive care simultaneously.
Chief Health Officer Dr. Kerry Chant says preparations are underway for 20 percent of the state’s eight million residents to catch COVID-19.
Chant expects every person who becomes ill will pass it on to 2.68 others on average—although this could be reduced through self-isolation, social distancing and handwashing.
“We’re anticipating 20 percent of the population in the first wave to be affected,” Chant told a NSW budget estimates hearing on Thursday.
She said forecasts showed five percent of residents affected by coronavirus—or up to 80,000 people—would require intensive care.
The World Health Organisation overnight declared the global crisis a pandemic, sounding the alarm about mounting infection rates and slow government responses.
Chant said NSW Health was planning to double the state’s intensive care unit capacity and double the availability of ventilators.
The response is in relation to both COVID-19 and the start of the flu season.
“We think doubling is prudent in the first stage,” Chant said.
“But if we have to do more, that’s fine.”
Authorities have not yet finalised plans for so-called “drive-through” coronavirus testing sites.
The number of NSW cases has reached 77, the origin of four of them unclear.
Chant implored anyone flying into NSW from overseas—not solely from banned countries China, South Korea, Iran and Italy – to distance themselves.
“Practically, you should attempt to keep … 1.5 metres between yourself and others, avoid crowds, mass gatherings,” she said.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Friday will meet with state and territory counterparts at COAG to discuss the possibility of mass closures of schools, universities and large events.
She encouraged residents to stay home if they felt ill.
“There’s no need to panic, to massively change what you’re doing, but it’s not business as usual,” Berejiklian told reporters.
The Lismore campus of Southern Cross University reopened on Thursday after an overseas-based staff member attended a series of workshops before returning to the Philippines.
Vice-chancellor Adam Shoemaker said 45 people were believed to have come into contact with the man.
NSW Health on Wednesday said COVID-19 clinics will be opened in all local health districts to diagnose patients with symptoms.
Royal North Shore, Royal Prince Alfred, John Hunter and Nepean hospitals will soon have the capacity to test for COVID-19.
Currently, only Prince of Wales, Westmead and Liverpool hospitals are able to.
Authorities are investigating a virus cluster in Sydney’s northwest centred on Ryde Hospital and the Dorothy Henderson Lodge nursing home.
The Transport Workers’ Union, meanwhile, has demanded NSW bus drivers be given more information and resources to protect themselves.