Australian government launches coronavirus publicity blitz as country runs low on testing kits | World news

The Australian government has announced a national publicity blitz aimed at stopping the spread of Covid-19 as the country’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, warned the infection rate of the virus may not peak until “well into the middle of the year”.

As Australians brace for the shutdown of major sporting codes, concerts and festivals in a dramatic scaling-back of day-to-day life not seen since the Second World War, the federal government has announced the release of a national advertising campaign to help combat the spread of the coronavirus. Australia now has 200 cases of the virus, as New South Wales reported 20 new cases on Saturday, its biggest daily increase since the pandemic began.

The education campaign comes after criticism of the government’s response to the crisis and an acknowledgement by the chief medical officer that the country’s supply of crucial medical equipment including personal protective gear and pathology test kits was “deteriorating rapidly”.

From Sunday, the government will release two separate television advertisements which encourage stringent personal hygiene and warn people who have recently been overseas or in contact with someone who has the virus to “seek medical advice” and self-isolate if they develop symptoms.

The campaign, which will also include outdoor advertising on buses, at train stations and in shopping centres, includes the slogan “together we can help stop the spread and stay healthy”.

It also advises people to only be tested for the virus “if you are experiencing flu or cold-like symptoms and have recently returned overseas or have been indirect contact with someone who is known to have contracted coronavirus”.

Earlier on Saturday the country’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, warned the spread of the virus may not peak until “well into the middle of the year”.

“If we get a large outbreak [it] could go well into the middle of the year before it peaks,” he said.

“But there are some countries … which seems to have peaked quite early and controlled the outbreak. One of the things we know about outbreaks and epidemics as they are very hard to predict.

“But it depends how it develops. It might develop in focal parts of the country where we might be able to control it, if it develops in a number of parts it could last for quite a number of weeks. At the moment we are just focusing on containing and flattening it, and we will be reviewing our public health measures every day.”

If the virus were to continue to spread more rapidly into the winter, it could place significant strain on Australia’s medical resources. As the Guardian has reported, a letter sent by Murphy to GPs on Friday warned the country’s supply of personal protective equipment and Covid-19 testing kits was already under “extreme pressure” with supplies “deteriorating rapidly”.

“Pathology collection centres have also experienced large backlogs in testing appointments in some parts of Australia, and emergency testing facilities have had to be established in some areas to ensure that urgent patients can get access to testing,” Murphy wrote.

Also on Saturday, the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, spoke publicly for the first time since he was diagnosed with the virus. Speaking to a Sydney radio station from his sickbed at the Royal Brisbane Hospital, Dutton said he was feeling “much better” and insisted health officials were not concerned about his contact with the prime minister, Scott Morrison, or Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the US president.

“Fever has gone this morning, temperature is down, my throat was very mild to start with so probably still a bit sore but very mild in that sense,” he said.

Dutton, who said he woke with symptoms including a fever, sore throat and a slight shortness of breath on Friday morning, attended a cabinet meeting with senior government ministers including the prime minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday and before that was in the US where he met with Ivanka Trump, the daughter of the US president.

Both Trump and Barr worked from home on Friday in the US after Dutton’s diagnosis was confirmed, but the home affairs minister said that he’d spoken to Queensland health authorities who were not concerned about his earlier contacts.

“Their advice to me is they’re concerned with people that I’ve had close contact with since the morning of the 11th,” Dutton said.

“So beyond that, it’s not further back, there’s some speculation about my visit to the White House etcetera but all the medical advice says there’s no issue in relation to that period or even cabinet earlier in the week. That’s the very clear medical advice that I got from Queensland Health.”

In New Zealand, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced that anyone entering the country, except for people from Pacific Islander countries, would need to self-isolate for two weeks.

That announcement, which comes despite the country recording only six cases of the virus so far, has potentially widespread consequences for the Super Rugby and NRL competitions already beleaguered by the Australian government’s decision to advise against all mass gatherings of more than 500 people.

“This decision will mean New Zealand will have the widest ranging and toughest border restrictions of any country in the world,” Ardern said on Saturday.

In further developments courts across the state of Victoria in Australia will immediately suspend all future jury trials in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19. The drastic measure will apply to the county and supreme courts.

Supreme court chief justice Anne Ferguson said all new jury trials would be suspended but that trials in which a jury had already been empanelled would continue.

“This means that the jury empanelment process, in which hundreds of potential jurors gather at court, will not take place until further notice,” Ferguson said.

The Northern Territory local court announced on Saturday evening it too would suspend all circuit court services effective immediately.

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