Australia’s COVID-19 peak ‘close’
Australia's COVID-19 epidemic is forecast to peak in two weeks' time as the Queen prepares to make an historic address after the UK's death tally surpassed China's official toll and half the world went into lockdown.
The global death toll approached 56,000 early this morning.
It comes as New York's infection rate broke through the 100,000 barrier, surpassing totals for entire nations including the UK, Germany and France.
New York's death toll is approaching 3,000, while the number of deaths in the UK increased by a record 684 to 3,645, overtaking China's official - and widely disputed - death toll of 3,322.
Nearly half of the world's population - 4 billion people - are now under staty-at-home orders to try to stem the spread of the virus.
Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine believe that they've found a potential vaccine for the new coronavirus and say it could be rolled out quickly enough to "significantly impact the spread of disease".
The vaccine would be delivered on a fingertip-size patch. When tested on mice, the vaccine produced enough antibodies believed to successfully counteract the virus.
The Queen's address on Sunday UK time in the face of the pandemic will be only the fourth such address she has ever made outside her annual Christmas message. Her last extraordinary address was in 2002 when the Queen Mother died, and she also responded publicly to the death of Princess Diana in 1997.
Sunday's message was filmed at Windsor Castle where the Queen is in residence with her husband Prince Philip.
Australia's death toll stands at 28 with nearly 5,500 infections, while the global number of infections is approaching 1.1 million with nearly 56,000 deaths.
The United States now has the most coronavirus cases in the world, followed by Spain, Italy, Germany and China.
Yesterday, it became the first country in the world to hit 1,000 coronavirus deaths in 24 hours after registering 1,047 fatalities. Overall, America has registered more than 245,000 infections and over 6,000 deaths, with the state of New York being the epicentre.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said his states hospitals would be overwhelmed within days as he pleaded with the rest of the nationa and the world to send ventilators to his state. "We don't have enough - period," he said.
Italy has half the number of infections as the US, but more than double the death tally at nearly 15,000.
AUSSIE INFECTION PEAK SOON: STUDY
University of Sydney modelling shows Australia's infection pealk should reach between 8,000 and 10,000 cases in April.
And if nine in 10 Australians comply with social distancing rules, the spread of COVID-19 could be controlled by July, University Sydney Professor Mikhail Prokopenko predicts.
If Australia had taken no action, half the population would have caught COVID-19 and the outbreak would not peak until mid-May.
The forecast comes as pandemic experts are challenging the claim Australians will have to remain in lockdown for at least six months to control COVID-19, with some saying restrictions could be eased within weeks.
There were 5350 confirmed cases in Australia early this morning local time, with around 650 recovered, as at Friday night.
NSW is the worst hit with 2389 cases and about 650 people recovered.
Australia's death toll from the virus now stands at 28 (12 in NSW, seven in Vic, three in Qld, three in WA, two in Tas, one in ACT).
WHEN WILL AUSTRALIA COME OUT OF LOCKDOWN?
University NSW biosecurity expert Professor Raina Macintyre said if Australia had a tighter lockdown with widespread testing Australia could start to ease restrictions within four to six weeks.
And the Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy is under pressure to release modelling that justifies a longer term lockdown.
China, where the COVID-19 outbreak started, began to loosen its tough lockdown this week. Just over two months after its lockdown began the province of Hubei, the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, went a whole week without recording a single new infection - according to official reports which have been ridiculed by the US and other nations.
Australia's lockdown would be longer because it had not controlled the virus as well as it could have with its "slow trickle" approach to restricting physical interactions, Professor Macintyre said.
"The risk of a phased and gradual approach is continued epidemic growth, potential failure of the health system, and a far longer road to recovery," Prof Macintyre said in a Medical Journal of Australia article.
Professor Dale Fisher, an Australian doctor working in Singapore - a country which has successfully contained COVID-19 - said that country succeeded because all positive cases were contained in a dormitory or hotel and were not allowed to go home.
In comparison, many people in Australia who were meant to be in isolation broke the rules.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned the lockdown will go for at least six months.
"We will be living with this virus for at least six months so social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus must be sustainable for at least that long," he said this week.
While NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said laws which ban gatherings of more than two people and prevent people from leaving their homes without a "reasonable excuse", had a lifetime of 90 days.
AUSTRALIAN CURVE 'FLATTENING OUT'
Australia's restrictions appear to be working and there was a marked flattening of the curve of COVID-19 infections this week when the daily infection rate fell from 25 per cent to around 10 per cent.
Instead of doubling every two to three days, infections are now doubling every week and this means there will be a greatly reduced burden on our hospital system.
The infection rate would need to get closer to zero before social restrictions could be eased and even then some restrictions, such as those on international travel, may have to remain in place to contain the virus.
Former health department chief now Grattan Institute researcher Professor Stephen Duckett said all international travellers entering Australia will have to continue to serve two weeks quarantine even if we lift local restrictions.
The Consumers Health Forum and medical groups have called for a much wider testing regimen fearing there may be a silent epidemic driven by mild or asymptomatic infections spreading throughout the community.
There is evidence that for every confirmed COVID-19 infection there can be up to nine undetected infections.
Sydney University evolutionary virologist Professor Edward Holmes is also calling for "very, very heavy levels of testing".
"We can really accurately track who has the virus and if we isolate them and we do that as frequently as we can, across as broad a set of populations as we can, hopefully then we can track any chains of transmission and quickly close them down," he said in an Australian Academy of Science video.
"If the government decides to wait for a COVID-19 vaccine before lifting the lockdown we may have to wait for 12 to 18 months."
Waiting until "herd immunity" developed to control the infection would be catastrophic.
Professor Macintyre and David Heslop, Associate Professor University of New South Wales, has calculated that because one COVID-19 patient infects 2.6 others we would require 61 per cent of the Australian population to contract the virus to gain herd immunity for the remaining 39 per cent.
There is always a risk of a second wave of infection once the lockdown is lifted.
HONG KONG INFECTION BREAKOUT
Hong Kong which appeared to have successfully controlled the virus with just 110 infections among its 7.5 million residents saw infections explode to over 750 this week as its residents returned from overseas bringing the virus with them.
South Korea and China have had the most success in controlling the virus and they used more targeted, shorter lockdowns along with extensive testing, although China's virus reporting has been called in to serious question by the US.
Dr Vanessa Johnston from the Communicable Diseases Network advising the government on the pandemic wants the government to release the modelling it has to justify a lengthy lockdown.
"I understand the desire for transparency and I think it is really important for the government, that's my personal view," she said.
Dr Johnston said the modelling must first be triple-checked to make sure all the assumptions and caveats were correct.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said this week more work was being done to refine the modelling and it could be released next week.
The Department of Health added: "As the Prime Minister has consistently stated, along with the Chief Medical Officer, the restrictions in place now will need to stay for around six months.
"However, the situation is being watched on a daily basis and states are responding to their respective case requirements to support the containment. Lifting of these restrictions would again be dependent on the specific level of cases in each area.
"Triggers to scale back will be heavily informed by the epidemiology and consideration as to whether there is a risk of a further spike in cases, noting that a vaccine is still 12 to 18 months away."
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee will be the key expert committee in terms of making future recommendation to government on easing restrictions, the department said.
WOOLIES AND COLES TO IMPOSE STRICT CUSTOMER LIMITS
According to news.com.au Woolworths and Coles will introduce new customer limits in stores on Monday to enforce social distancing.
Woolworths will introduce the new customer limits on Monday, with reports that its store at Richmond NSW has reportedly already limited shopping to eight people at one time.
How many customers are let inside Woolworths to shop at any given time will depend on the floor space of each individual store.
Customers may be counted at the door and asked to queue in the street, being allowed in as other shoppers finish buying and leave the store.
The tighter measures will also be introduced by Coles from next week.
The new restrictions will be enforced using security guards and specially-trained staff.
Coles' rules include 1.5m of separation, 15 minutes face-to-face or two hours side-by-side to create a safe environment.
"Customers will start to notice stores implementing new social distancing measures in the lead-up to the Easter weekend," Woolworths said in a statement to news.com.au.
"Depending on how busy a store is, we may limit the number of people entering the store from time to time.
"Customer limits will be specific to each location and based on the size of the store.
"Our store managers will use common sense discretion to manage this in the interest of community safety."
ACCESS PRESCRIPTIONS WITHOUT LEAVING HOME
Doctors will be able to email prescriptions direct to a pharmacy or a patient in a major breakthrough that means you won't have to leave home to get your medicine.
The Australian Government Department of Health on Friday announced new arrangements for prescriptions to support telehealth services.
Patients can get a prescription from their GP sent to their phone or email, which they can send to a pharmacy.
Patients can also choose to have their GP send their prescription direct to their pharmacy of choice and their medication can be delivered to their door if the chemist offers this service.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) president Dr Harry Nespolon welcomed the move as a breakthrough for GPs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This is a vital part of the puzzle to enable GPs to continue providing the same quality care to their patients via telehealth as they do face-to-face.
"It means patients with a variety of health conditions can get a prescription from their GP sent to their phone or email, which they can send to a pharmacy and the medicine can be delivered. A patient can also choose to have their GP send their prescription direct to their pharmacy.
"This breakthrough that the RACGP argued strongly for will enable GPs to better support their patients during this pandemic and help to minimise the spread of COVID-19 in our community as people can access medical care and any medication they may need without needing to leave their home."
Earlier this week the government expanded telehealth to all patients to slow the spread of COVID-19.
This means patients can now get a Medicare rebate for a phone consultation with their doctor.
AMERICANS URGED TO WEAR MASKS
All Americans have been urged to wear face coverings to limit the coronavirus, as new research shows the disease is easily spread through breathing and talking.
US President Donald Trump has for the past two days used his White House briefings to recommend people use some kind of face covering.
His top infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said on Friday (Thursday US time) the advice was being "formalised" and an announcement was set to be made on Saturday (Friday US time).
Officials have stressed that it is not necessary for citizens to use medical grade masks, amid a shortage impacting many nations of crucial personal protective equipment for doctors and nurses.
"You can use a scarf," Mr Trump said.
"Use a scarf if you want, you know, rather than going out and getting a mask or whatever.
"We're making millions and millions of masks, but we want them to go to the hospitals."
The formal recommendations follow similar guidance from the mayors of New York and Los Angeles and would possibly recommend anyone going outside their homes to wear some kind of face covering, such as a T-shirt or a bandana, Dr Fauci said on CNN.
He said the best advice remained to stay indoors and observe the shelter-in-place recommendations that now apply to more than 90 per cent of the US.
But Dr Fauci acknowledged this was not possible for everyone and it was "inevitable" that at some point on an outing for groceries or medication that people would be closer than the recommended 2m distance apart.
While Mr Trump has been encouraging face coverings, Dr Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force chief, said there were concerns this would give people a "false sense of security".
It came as Mr Trump fired back at criticism from Democrats and some states that the federal government was not doing enough to support their fight against COVID-19.
"The Federal Government is merely a back-up for state governments," Mr Trump wrote to senior Democrat Chuck Schumer of hard-hit New York.
"Unfortunately, your state needed far more of a back-up than most others."
Mr Trump said states should have built bigger stockpiles of medical supplies.
The Center for Diseases Control and the World Health Organisation recommend that the general population does not need to wear masks.
"Only wear a mask if you are ill with COVID-19 symptoms (especially coughing) or looking after someone who may have COVID-19. Disposable face masks can only be used once," says the WHO.
Face masks are widely worn in some Asian countries, including some such as South Korea which has successfully clamped down on COVID-19's spread after early outbreaks.
It has been difficult to buy face masks online in the US for the past six weeks, as the coronavirus spread.
Some retailers who had bought supplies in bulk and then charged a premium as the panic built have been banned from using popular platforms such as Amazon and eBay.
But this hasn't stopped a fluid underground market, with police in Brooklyn on Friday (Thursday US time) seizing almost a million pieces of PPE from a man who was hoarding and selling them to local hospitals for up to 700 per cent their original value.
New York State has seen its highest daily jump in COVID-19 deaths, from 2373 to 2935, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a press conference held Friday morning, local time.
the 562 new deaths over 24 hours represent a 23 per cent jump and the biggest daily increase since the outbreak began.
Mr Cuomo said he will order ventilators be redeployed by National Guard to overwhelmed New York City area hospitals from other places amid the alarming increases in COVID-19-related deaths and hospitalisations.
Almost 15,000 people are hospitalised in New York.
"You have more deaths, you have more people coming into hospitals than any other night," a weary sounding Mr Cuomo told a state Capitol news briefing
"I'm not going to be in a position where people are dying and we have several hundred ventilators in our own state somewhere else," Mr Cuomo said.
PASSPORTS FOR PEOPLE WHO BEAT THE VIRUS TOUTED IN UK
The UK's death toll increased by 684 to 3645 in the last 24 hours, overtaking China's official count.
China has recorded 3322 deaths to date, but have been accused of hiding deaths.
Confirmed cases have also jumped to 38,168 in the UK - up 4450 from Thursday's total of 33,718.
The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 has been rising by an average of 17 per cent per day - suggesting the UK is no closer to the "curve" flattening.
Britain was considering coronavirus passports for those who have recovered from the disease as the government "levelled" with people that it had not done enough testing.
The idea, which has been floated in Germany, would allow people who have beaten the virus to get back to work and help boost the economy.
The UK has been struggling to do 10,000 tests a day while Germany has been testing 500,000 people per week.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who himself has recovered from the illness and was back to work on Friday (Thursday UK time), said some of the 1.7 million tests that the UK was set to buy had failure rates of 75 per cent.
He urged patience, saying no test was better than a bad test.
Mr Hancock said in the medium term that the UK could test people to check their immunity levels once the testing kits accuracy was confirmed.
"We are looking at an immunity certificate - how people who have had the disease, have got the antibodies and therefore have immunity can … get back as much as possible to normal life," he said.
In other developments on Friday:
• Premier League footballers were discussing a 25 per cent wage cut;
• The world passed 1 million coronavirus infections, doubling within a week;
• The UK government pledged to do 100,000 tests a day by the end of April;
• Millions of Brits went out on their doorsteps to clap the NHS for the second week in a row to show their support, with Kylie Minogue sending a thankyou message.
A 108-year-old British woman, Hilda Churchill, who survived two World Wars, became the oldest coronavirus victim.
Prince William, who earlier this week had offered to return as a rescue helicopter pilot to fight coronavirus, also showed his appreciation to NHS staff.
He called doctors at the Queen's Hospital near Birmingham, telling them on behalf of himself and Kate: "We'd just like to say from the two of us how proud we are of all of you and how amazingly you are all doing under extreme circumstances.
"I know all of you see this as your job and that you get on with it, but this is a different level and you are doing an incredible job.
"The whole country is proud of you so thank you for everything you're doing and all the hours you are putting in."
The UK was nearing the peak of its death toll, but currently has almost 2000 intensive care beds available despite having more than 10,000 patients in hospitals.
The new Nightingale Hospital in East London, with 4000 beds, will also boost that availability ahead of an expected surge in cases.
There were signs that people were starting to tire of the lockdown in the UK, which has been in place for almost two weeks.
But most people were still following the rules and the streets have become so quiet that deer have been roaming in East London.
They were photographed wandering the streets of a housing estate, stunning locals.
SPAIN WORKING WITH PHONE COMPANIES TO BUST REBELS
Spain will track residents' mobile phones to check if people were following lockdown rules, as the country had another record daily death toll of 950, bringing the total over 10,000.
Phone companies have agreed to share data with the government to crack down on people who were flouting the rules.
"The goal is to analyse the effect which the (confinement) measures have had on people's movements, and see if people's movements across the land are increasing or decreasing," a government statement said.
There have already been 270,000 fines handed out to people in Spain for breaching lockdown.
A doctor in Spain has said there were signs, however, that the tide was turning.
"Fewer people are coming into the emergency room," a doctor at La Paz Hospital in Madrid told El País.
"We have had more than 300 emergency cases in a day, and today we are under 200. The pressure has dropped slightly."
RUSSIA BLAMING WEST FOR CRISIS
Russia has been accused of using the coronavirus as a propaganda tool against Western nations, as President Vladimir Putin announced he will pay workers for a month to stay home.
The Russian strongman has made a major escalation in the country's response to the crisis, with fears it would take a toll on the country's health system.
A Canadian University report has also claimed that Russia was "churning out propaganda that blames the West for creating the virus".
"Putin's larger goal in spreading propaganda and conspiracy theories is to subvert the West," the University of Calgary paper said.
"Russia seeks to seriously damage the solidarity among EU members and capitalise on any internal European weaknesses."
The claims come as Russia, the United States and Saudi Arabia agreed to a cut in oil production after demand collapsed because of coronavirus.
Putin said that Russia had "not reversed the trend" of coronavirus cases when locking down the country for most of April.
The president has been working in isolation after coming into contact with a doctor who came down with COVID-19.
PHILIPPINES THREATEN TO SHOOT RULE BREAKERS
Police have been ordered to shoot to kill anyone breaking lockdown laws in the Philippines.
Hard line President Rodrigo Duterte, who have previously been accused of human rights violations, made the directive to frontline police.
"So once again I'm telling you the seriousness of the problem and that you must listen. My orders to the police and military … If there is trouble and there's an occasion that they fight back and your lives are in danger, shoot them dead," Mr Duterte said.
"Is that understood? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I will bury you."
There had been reports of conflict in poorer areas of the capital Manila before Mr Duterte's comments.
At least 100 people have died from 2600 cases in the Philippines.
INDONESIAN GIRL, 11, DIES AFTER TESTING POSITIVE
An 11-year-old girl who died of coronavirus has become a dire warning of the threat of coronavirus in Indonesia.
The girl, who already had dengue fever, died after problems with her breathing this week.
Doctors were only able to confirm her coronavirus diagnosis this week after death at a hospital in East Java on March 20.
"Her immune system was quite poor," an official at East Java's virus task force said.
"She was battling two illnesses at once so that's why her condition worsened."
It comes as Bali has been sending trucks through its streets spraying disinfectant on the tourist island, which is a key part of Indonesia's economy.
Indonesia has had 170 deaths from 1790 reported cases, with a mortality rate of 9.4 per cent, edging towards Italy's mortality rate of 12.4 per cent.
However, the death toll was likely to be substantial in Indonesia if the virus takes hold.
Originally published as Australia's COVID-19 peak 'close'