WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11
The Federal Government will create a new Medicare item to pay doctors for consulting patients over the phone as part of a new $2.4 billion health package designed to help protect Australians against coronavirus.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the package, which will also include the establishment of up to 100 fever clinics, will ensure Australia is as well prepared as anywhere in the world
Mr Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt will unveil the details of the health plan today, ahead of the release of the Government’s broader economic stimulus package.
The health plan will see $205 million set aside for 100 pop-up respiratory clinics in areas of need across the country.
The fever clinics are designed to take pressure off GP clinics and hospital emergency departments, and will treat people with mild or moderate coronavirus symptoms.
That will free up hospitals to treat only the most severe cases of the coronavirus.
The Government also hopes the clinics will reduce the risk of the virus spreading, creating a one-stop shop that could operate as a medical centre, treating up to 75 patients a day.
Some doctors have complained GP practices and hospitals are currently overwhelmed and unprepared to handle a coronavirus pandemic, with new cases being identified daily.
From Friday, medical and mental health staff will be allowed to bulk-bill sessions conducted over video conferencing services like FaceTime, Skype and WhatsApp as part of the Government’s containment strategy.
Mr Morrison said the health package was about preventing and treating coronavirus.
“We’re ensuring our health system is well prepared and has the resources it needs for our fight against coronavirus,” he said.
Mr Morrison said that with the $2.4 billion funding boost Australia was “as well prepared as any country in the world”, which to date has seen 4,090 people die of the virus.
In another crucial development, the Federal Government today expanded its coronavirus travel ban to include Italy.
Bans are already in place for travellers from China, Iran and South Korea. The ban for Italy will begin at 6:00pm tonight.
Foreign nationals who have been in Italy, mainland China, Iran and South Korea will not be allowed into Australia for 14 days from the time they left those countries.
Australian citizens and permanent residents travelling from those countries will be able to enter Australia, but need to isolate themselves for a fortnight.
In other coronavirus news, an arts festival in Tasmania schedule for June was cancelled, Southern Cross University announced it would close its Lismore campus in northern NSW and its Gold Coast campus in Queensland after a visiting staff member from the Philippines tested positive to coronavirus.
And as Italy remained in lockdown and locked out by Australia, a British junior minister Nadine Dorries, has been diagnosed with coronavirus after falling ill on Friday, The Times and BBC have reported.
Ms Dorries, who is now in isolation and recovering, met hundreds of people in Parliament in the past week and attended a reception with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Times said.
Italians have been told to stay at home — unless they have health, work or emergency needs — for at least the next three weeks.
Anyone travelling in Italy will have to carry a document declaring their reasons, with outdoor events, including sports fixtures, suspended and schools and universities shuttered.
In the US, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is sending National Guard troops into a suburb to help fight what appears to be the United States’ biggest known cluster of coronavirus cases.
Schools, houses of worship and large gathering places will be shuttered for two weeks in a “containment area” in the city of New Rochelle, in New York’s Westchester County.
Mr Cuomo said the National Guard troops would help clean surfaces and deliver food in the area, which has a 1.6-kilometre radius around a point near a synagogue.
Just one rare white giraffe remains in the world after poachers killed a mother and its calf in Kenya, a spokesperson for the local conservancy has confirmed, newsagencies report.
The Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy said the country’s only female white giraffe and her calf were found in a “skeletal state after being killed by armed poachers”.
The giraffes gained global attention in 2017 when they were first captured on film. After the deaths, only one young male white giraffe remains at the Hirola Conservancy.
“This is a very sad day for the community of Ijara and Kenya as a whole,” the conservancy’s Mohammed Ahmednoor said.
“We are the only community in the world who are custodians of the white giraffe. Its killing is a blow to tremendous steps taken by the community to conserve rare and unique species, and a wake-up call for continued support to conservation efforts.”
Experts believe the giraffes have a rare genetic mutation known as leucism, which causes a partial loss of pigmentation.
“This is a long-term loss given that genetics studies and research, which were significant investment into the area by researchers, has now gone down the drain,” Mr Ahmednoor said.
“Further to this the white giraffe was a big boost to tourism in the area.”
The African Wildlife Foundation estimates that 40 per cent of the overall giraffe population has been lost in the past 30 years.
Afghanistan will release 1,500 Taliban prisoners as a move to launch direct talks with the hard-line insurgent group to end the 18-year war.
Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan Government will run parallel with the release.
Commanders of the hardline insurgent Islamist group said they would honour the deal by handing over 1,000 captured government troops.
A decree authorising the prisoner release was signed by President Ashraf Ghani.
The two-page decree — which was viewed by Reuters and will be made public later by Mr Ghani’s office — said that all released Taliban prisoners would have to provide “a written guarantee to not return to the battlefield”.
The decree laid out details about how the Taliban prisoners would be released in a systematic manner to further peace talks.
“The process of releasing 1,500 Taliban prisoners will be completed within 15 days, with 100 prisoners walking out of Afghan jails every day,” the decree said, adding that the release process would begin in four days.
Talks between the Taliban and the Afghan Government to end the war would run parallel with the release, the decree said.
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