Australia ramps up epidemic preparation as third person dies of coronavirus

A woman wearing a face mask crosses the street in Melbourne on March 5, 2020.
A woman wearing a face mask crosses the street in Melbourne on March 5, 2020.PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - A man in his 80s died in a Sydney hospital after testing positive for Covid-19, becoming the third coronavirus-related casualty in Australia, state health authorities said on Sunday (March 8).

The total number of coronavirus cases has topped 70 in Australia with state and federal health authorities fretting over the risk of more widespread community transmission.

The outbreak has killed more than 3,400 people worldwide, spreading across more than 90 nations outside China.

New South Wales Health said in a statement, it was "continuing to find and respond to cases as they are diagnosed to slow any spread of Covid-19 in the community."

A federal government fiscal stimulus package to protect the economy against the impact of the coronavirus could run as high A$10 billion (S$9.1 billion), media reported.

The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that the package was likely to be A$5 billion while broadcaster Sky News said the stimulus could be up to twice this amount.

Australia is expected to reveal details of its plans on Tuesday (March 10), when Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Cabinet meet. 

Governments around the world have already pledged more than US$54 billion in budget support to counter the virus’s impact. Morrison has yet to put a figure on his plan, which he has said will be “targeted, measured and scalable,” with an emphasis on protecting business cash flow and jobs. 

Separately, Federal Minister for Health Greg Hunt will hold a press conference later on Sunday to announce that the government has secured an additional 54 million face masks to help protect medical workers.

On Saturday, the government released an extra 260,000 surgical masks from federal stockpile to primary health networks.

“These are for medical services personnel,” said Hunt.

“As we believe that they are required we’ll be distributing them through the primary health network. And if any other mechanisms are required, we’ll do that.”

Hunt also called for calm in the community, saying some people have not been their “best selves”, referring to hoarders who have emptied supermarket shelves in recent days.

New South Wales state premier added her weight too, urging people to be “rational”.

“We have everything we need. Nobody needs to fear of running out of anything,” she said.

The calls come as the New South Wales state police on Sunday charged two Sydney women involved in a violent brawl over toilet rolls at a supermarket in Sydney’s south-west.